If it doesn't work, hit it.
Beers to the boffins who remembered this and hopefully the next few meters will be boring.
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 ( …
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.
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.
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.
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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