Mars drilling mission ended in failure

(ORDO NEWS) — Two years of trying to drill a well on Mars ended in failure. The engineers did their best to bring the experiment to a successful conclusion, on which planetary scientists had very high hopes. But this did not succeed, and NASA experts decided to stop the work of the “Mole” on the Red Planet.

As a reminder, the Mole tool is part of the InSight mission on Mars. The Mole was developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), but is managed by NASA, the agency that created and launched the Insight mission.

The Mole is a 40 cm drill that works like a jackhammer. He pulls a cable with temperature sensors behind him. It was planned that the device would bury itself at a depth of five meters and measure the heat flow from the interior of the planet and the thermal conductivity of the soil. If successful, the well created by the probe would be the first on the Red Planet. However, the first pancake came out lumpy. At a depth of 35 centimeters, the Mole was literally stuck.

The fact is that the ground at the Insight landing point turned out to be completely different from what the scientists had assumed. It did not provide the drill with the necessary friction against the borehole walls, and the Mole was fruitlessly bouncing on the spot.

Since February 2019, when this incident occurred, engineers have continued to try to help the device. It was impossible to transfer it to another site (the mission did not provide for such scenarios), so the only means of salvation could be a manipulator with a scoop on a bucket.

The specialists showed maximum ingenuity. They tried to put pressure on the ground next to the drill, and also partially fill the hole in order to reduce its diameter. It did not help. Then the operators pressed the drill against the borehole wall by pushing it with a bucket from the side. This allowed it to move a few centimeters, but then the Mole got stuck again.

Finally, the engineers resorted to the last resort. They pressed the bucket onto the drill from above, risking damaging its cable. This helped, and the Mole sank completely under the surface of Mars. However, when the tip of the drill was two or three centimeters below ground level, it stopped again.

This time the situation was hopeless. The bucket no longer reaches the top of the probe and cannot push it. The engineers again tried to press on the ground near the well, but, like last time, this did not bring any results.

On January 9, 2021, “Mole” made about 500 blows of the “jackhammer”, but remained in place. And the experts came to the conclusion that they could no longer help him. This experiment has been minimized.

Fortunately, the Mole is not Insight’s only scientific tool. The device successfully registers Marsquakes, measures the magnetic field at the landing site and conducts meteorological observations. So the flow of scientific data from the probe remains huge. As a result, NASA management recently extended the InSight mission until 2022, and if successful, it will be extended many more times. Other devices have demonstrated this more than once.

By the way, the specialists plan to use the experience of manipulating the bucket, which they have acquired in nearly two years of trying to save the Mole. The engineers hope to cover the Insight seismograph cable with soil to protect it from surface temperature changes. There will then be less interference in the instrument data.

There is no doubt that experts will take into account the unsuccessful experience of the Mole when creating new probes, and one day humanity will still drill through the stubborn surface of the Red Planet.


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