back to article Diggerland comes to Mars as boffins battle to save InSight's mole

Boffins at NASA's JPL and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have come up with a plan to save the stricken Mars InSight probe. As a reminder, the lander's self-hammering probe, aka the mole, is a key part of the Mars lander's science payload and is designed to record the amount of heat escaping from the interior of the red …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Have they thought of just positioning the end of the arm on top of the mole when it is drilling to aid its inertia?

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Have they thought of getting Bruce Willis to do the drilling for them?

      As a Chem Eng graduate I still recall with delight the Yellow Pages entry "Boring - see Civil Engineers"

    2. lglethal Silver badge

      Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple, the tether that connects the Mole to the lander comes out of the rear side of the Mole and is a thin flat cable made of Kapton (and wires). So you have to be very careful not to press down on that with the end of the arm. You're also doing this based on camera images taken from the Lander or high up on the arm. So you need to be very precise with what your doing.

      In the end the team have decided to go with "pinning" the Mole to the side of the hole, so that at least part of the Mole has good solid contact with the hole wall (and the arm will provide some friction on the other side). If you want full details check out the HP³ Blog ( The Hammering will restart soon, so fingers crossed!

      (from an ex HP³ Team member..)

  2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

    This is the voice of the Mysterons

    Stop that bloody tapping on the roof of my house, its only just been recemented!

  3. adam payne Silver badge

    So you're trying to dig into a Prothean ruin with a drill, what could possibly go wrong?!?

  4. Andy The Hat Silver badge


    Moles are little and burrow by digging with big claws - that's how they get rid of stones and other minor obstructions. (there's a good description by Hills in The Great Escape!) If they hit an immovable obstruction they simply dig around/over/under it ...

    Pile drivers use percussion to sink into the ground - big, massive percussion for a relatively small cross-section pile. On occasion they get stuck because they can't move or break through an obstruction at which point they retract the pile (if possible, otherwise they cut it off) and start again.

    A screw type piler can clear waste better but can still get stuck even though it has hundreds of Hp behind it -at which point it retracts the drill and starts again.

    Now, the only one in this list that works 100% reliably is the mole. The only one in this list that has no resemblance to the design on Mars is ...? Of course the lander could retract the impactor, move and try again ... oh, it's not designed to do that ...

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Mole?

      I'm sure you can design a better mechanism that weighs less than 3kg, and uses less than 2W to measure the temperature at various points down to 5m below the surface.

      1. oldfartuk

        Re: Mole?

        a B&Q 24W battery operated drill and masonry bit?

    2. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Mole?

      Hey we tried putting a Mole into a space suit, but the bloody thing kept scratching up the suit, and putting holes in. It just couldnt seem to get the hang of using the claw holes provided. And boy let me tell you dont want to be cleaning out the space suit of a pissed off Mole. We had to shut the facility down just because of the smell!

      1. oldfartuk

        Re: Mole?

        Furthermole, as we discovered, the russians objected, havig paid for the mole to go to Eton and then Cambridge, and work its way up the ranks of MI5, only for a bunch of white coats to try and force him to go to Mars, somewhre there are no american military bases of interest.

    3. Kibble 2

      Lesson learned

      A bit expensive admittedly. However, one that can possibly be fixed: negative results can be useful. How important is this particular mission anyway?

      Given that the crust in this location is so hard, possibly a reusable and mobile drill should be utilized; the information might be of interest to early settlers on Mars if they find it extensive and prefer to build underground shelters.

  5. Marketing Hack Silver badge


    I bet they got that name off a product tag they found at the bottom of the hole they drilled. The next thing you know, they will find that the Martians have Tyvek as well.

    1. sbt Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Duricrust??

      Definitely seems more branding, less science.

      Looks like they should have dialled before they dug. I could have told 'em they'd hit something hard on a barren, rocky planet.

      Since they've already tried turning it on and off again, I don't have much hope, sadly. Good luck to 'em, though.

  6. MJI Silver badge

    Need a JCB?

    Perhaps they need to use one as a Mars rover.

  7. oldfartuk

    So lets get this right. You designed a device that can only be placed once, and then cant be retracted and placed again? How much harder woudl that have been? It reminds me of the old Messerschmidt Bubble Cars, which opened at the front to get in, and had no reverse gar, so if you drove into the garage and right up to the end wall, you were trapped for all eternity.

    1. PeterM42

      Bubble cars

      The Messerschmidt has a canopy (like the fighter). It was the BMW and one other that had the door at the front. The one I knew about, you started the engine in the opposite direction to reverse.

      1. annodomini2

        Re: Bubble cars

        BMW Isetta

  8. Conundrum1885


    Levin is suggesting that with modern computer techniques analyzing the data clearly shows a life signature.

    Could inSight have hit a Martian shell from some long dead sea creature? Would explain a few things.

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