Last month, NASA began digging up in the Red Planet. His HP Tool (Package of Heat Streams and Physical Properties) was designed to immerse and measure Mars from the underground, revealing new geological data on how heat travels through the Martian soil. Part of this tool, which is actually buried in the ground, is known as a mole. He had to penetrate to a depth of 16 feet. But he stopped only a few hours after digging began. Mole only made it about one degree deep.
Since then, mission scientists have been hard at work trying to figure out how to do it again. Their current best assumption, according to Thillman Spon, chief researcher of the HP tool is that the mole fell into a rock or gravel layer. But he admits that this is partly speculation. It is possible that drilling has been hitting one way or another for its own support structure. The team needs to explore all the possibilities before acting.
Testing at home and on the Mars
To find out, the NASA team turned to a set of diagnostic tools such as the InSight camera and other sensors. But they are also trying to reproduce the problem with engineering models on Earth. InSight has a twin, currently located in Berlin, and many more copies of its various instruments, including the mole. And engineers have been practicing with these clone devices since they were out of service, trying to recreate the problem they see on Mars, and then develop a way to once again dig the earthen moles. Only then will they try to correct them in genuine InSight.
Spohn points out that the whole process is slow, and maybe another month, until the team is ready to try any fixes – these are attempts on Mars. Even as they develop a solution, they may require the writing of new software, testing it on models on Earth, and then sending it to the real InSight before any action takes place.
So, for the moment, teams in the German language Aerospace Center, which provided the HP tool and NASA's jet propulsion laboratory, which manages a larger mission of InSight, work together to find the cause and possible solutions to the InSight digging problem.
There are scenarios that can stop the mission where it stands. – If there is a camera unit at 1 meter (3 feet), – says Spon, – we can not cope with this situation. We hope that what we kill is a small rock, say, half the length of the moth. Spohn calls this "brute force" approach.
One way scientists try to help a hammer hammer is to push a mole or its resistance, probably in the hand of Light, to give it more power and limit any kickback. Now, the problem may be that the mole bounces off the rock instead of passing, so adding more pressure can help dig it. But pushing down is not what the hand was designed for, and therefore testing with models on Earth would be so important before they tried them on a craftsman for $ 800 million on Mars.
on the landing, there are no fixes on the Red Planet. "If you make a mistake, she's gone," Span says. But he also points out that if the mole begins to dig freely again, it can reach its target depth for about four hours, and it has a lot of energy left to do it. InSight itself works on solar energy and is designed for two Earth years. InSight arrived only on Mars in November, so it has plenty of time.
If the worst case occurs and the mole can not continue, Spohn acknowledges: "We would lose a significant amount of science. Go down at least 10 feet to reach its goal of measuring the heat flow from the interior of Mars." But still needs to be done, "he says. Other InSight tools work as planned, and they will still receive information from the foot of Mars, which InSight was able to dig up." It will still be things that have not been done before, "says Span "Not as brave as originally planned, but still a good science."