back to article Hooray, space boffins have finally got InSight lander's heat probe back into Martian ground again

NASA’s Insight lander is back in business after the agency reported that its "mole," a digging probe designed to burrow into the martian soil, is now back in action after suffering months of mishaps. Tilman Spohn, the principal investigator for the instrument officially known as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package ( …

  1. HildyJ Silver badge

    First rule

    If it doesn't work, hit it.

    Beers to the boffins who remembered this and hopefully the next few meters will be boring.

    1. RM Myers Silver badge

      Re: First rule

      I thought the first rule was, if it doesn't fit, get a bigger hammer, or in this case, a robotic arm (bigger than the mole).

      I agree with your beers sentiment. Good work all around.

    2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Re: First rule

      How rude, we would retaliate but something severed our cable for the radio mast.

    3. Colintd

      Re: First rule

      "Precussive maintenance" is the technical term...

    4. HelpfulJohn

      Re: First rule

      The very, very first rule should have been: power the robot with nukes and drill with a laser until you get near the deployment range, then use a real metal thingy.

      Sure, a laser will heat the ground up a bit but that heat pulse would dies away after a week or so.

      No robot sent further away from Sol than Earth orbit should be relying on solar panels, that is just stupid. Especially in a seasonal, dust-laden rock like Mars.

      And everything that relies on light should have windscreen wipers.

  2. swm Silver badge

    I hope they haven't hit a rock.

    1. Chris G Silver badge


      The technical term for the rock, is Mars.

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Murphy's Law?

        I wonder if the attraction between moles and rocks is similar to the recently proven one between drones and trees?

  3. Ghostman

    Game time

    Supervisor: You've been at that for almost six months. Any progress?

    Boffins: Not much. This is the slowest game I've ever played.

    Supervisor: What game are you playing?

    Boffins together: Why, Whack-A-Mole sir.

  4. A K Stiles

    "stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed"

    Well I"m dtsying tunrd but keeoing mt fingres crossedf id msking typing wuite diffucilt!

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge


    Marvin, that thing's coming through the ceiling again. I don't know what it is, but perhaps you could get your hammer and knock it back up? Then whatever it is might stop doing it!

  6. 96percentchimp

    Time to get a man in

    If anything shows the limits of remote exploration, it's this. Kudos to the folk at JPL, but I suspect that a workshop on Mars could have been through several iterations of the mole by now and found one that works.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Time to get a man in

      They'd not have needed to if there was a workshop on Mars. They'd have just used a ground screw.

  7. Paul Cooper

    This is why we need manned space travel

    ISTR that there was a similar problem on Apollo when the astronauts had problems driving a flagstaff into the lunar regolith. It was solved using the classic method of "use a bigger hammer", or something equally low-tech. There are limits to automated space probes, and while they can do wonderful things that far exceed their design parameters, it's always worth remembering that they move VERY slowly and cautiously and that a geologist on the surface could produce the same output in a matter of days as Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity have in years of operation. Further, None of the automated probes could react to something like a fossil unless they happened to point their camera in the right direction at the right time - even on earth, where we expect to find fossils, it can be difficult even for a trained human to spot them. And those interpreting the images and other results back on Earth have to apply the most conservative interpretation to the results coming back because they can't pick something up and give it a close inspection. For example, I recall that one of the early images from Spirit or Opportunity showed regularly shaped cavities in a rock, which were interpreted as voids caused by dissolution of crystals. That's a perfectly reasonable interpretation, but the alternative interpretation that would be considered for something similar on Earth - that they are fossils - didn't seem to be considered; probably because of Occam's razor! But a geologist on the spot could, in a matter of minutes, carry out an examination that would settle the matter one way or another. I'm biased - my first reaction on seing the image was "That looks awfully like a cast of a brachiopod shell!", and I could never undestand why nothing I've seen published even considered that possibility, even if it was rejected.

    1. tfb Silver badge

      Re: This is why we need manned space travel

      a geologist on the surface could produce the same output in a matter of days as Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity have in years of operation

      That's great so long as putting a geologist on the surface for a matter of days doesn't cost hugely more than keeping a bunch of robots on the surface for years. I don't know what the relative costs are but I have my suspicions.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A Martian burrowed creature keeps saying

    "Why does that thing keep poking me?"

    And soon we suddenly lose communication with the lander...

  9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    If they ever design v 2.0 of this they'll know to incorporate a big hammer. May be hi-vis jacket as well.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      And why not? It's already lived up to the general stereotype by digging a hole and then doing nothing for months.

  10. William Higinbotham

    Temperature of planet?

    And we will find out the planet has COVID-19 infection.

  11. Mark 85 Silver badge

    The next time,

    Send two robots. One with an arm for drilling. The other with a BFH and also the ability to jump up and down on the drilling arm.

    1. HelpfulJohn

      Re: The next time,

      There are milliards of that second type of "robot" (or "worker") available. They are called "humans" and are dirt-cheap to manufacture but terribly fragile and not generally suited to working in the Martian environment, they would need a boatload of PPE.

      As an already manufactured example of the tool under discussion, I would be perfectly happy to spend the remainder of my life tootling around Mars in a bus with some spare parts, power cells, bottles of windscreen-washer fluids, cloths and tool-kits to fix, upgrade and generally pet all of the rovers, stations and possibly orbiters (do that bit first, before landing so a lift-off and second landing is avoided) that litter place.

      I would not be happy to do the same on Venus. The Cytherean landers are not going to be in any shape to be repaired. That would also be true of those that "landed" on Jupiter and Saturn, though Huygens may be still usable.

      Mars would be fun for a guy with a toolkit and some spares.

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