NASA fixed a Mars probe by hitting it with a shovel

The Mars InSight Lander has a ton of tools for exploring the Red Planet next door, including a 15-inch digging probe (also known as "the mole") meant to burrow into the Martian soil and take measurements.

Unfortunately, the mole got stuck. From Popular Science:

A rock could be in the way, but the more likely culprit appears to be the Martian soil. Previous observations had led the German Aerospace Center engineers who designed the probe to expect that it would be digging through loose sand. They built the mole to bounce up and down like a jackhammer, sinking with each stroke and threading its way around any modestly sized rocks it encountered. But the probe has found soil that seems more dirt-like than sand-like; It sticks together and doesn’t collapse around the mole to give it enough friction to dig. What the mole needs is a little nudge.

So what did they do to get the mole unstuck? They used the shovel-like scoop at the end of one of the InSight Lander's robot arms to pin down the mole. "The move is risky," Popular Science explained, "because a delicate tether that provides power and communications from the lander attaches to the back part of the mole, and a hard whack could damage it."

Fortunately, it worked.

Who knew that the "Why are you hitting yourself?" game would be such a useful tool for space exploration?

At long last, NASA’s probe finally digs in on Mars [Charlie Wood / Popular Science]

NASA fixes Mars lander by telling it to hit itself with a shovel [Dan Robitzski / Futurism]

Mars InSight Lander to push on top of mole [NASA]

Image: Public Domain via NASA/JPL-Caltech Read the rest

NASA unveils plans for a new rover: Mars 2020

The US space agency today revealed plans for a new rover: Mars 2020.

The rover "will carry seven carefully-selected instruments to conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet," NASA announced.

Designing, launching, and landing a rover that can withstand the rigors of space travel and the brutal challenges of the Red Planet's surface is no big deal for JPL engineers. But how they'll pull it off by 2020 with the currently projected federal space budget is anyone's guess.

May we suggest Kickstarter?

From the official press release:

NASA announced the selected Mars 2020 rover instruments Thursday at the agency's headquarters in Washington. Managers made the selections out of 58 proposals received in January from researchers and engineers worldwide. Proposals received were twice the usual number submitted for instrument competitions in the recent past. This is an indicator of the extraordinary interest by the science community in the exploration of the Mars. The selected proposals have a total value of approximately $130 million for development of the instruments.

The Mars 2020 mission will be based on the design of the highly successful Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which landed almost two years ago, and currently is operating on Mars. The new rover will carry more sophisticated, upgraded hardware and new instruments to conduct geological assessments of the rover's landing site, determine the potential habitability of the environment, and directly search for signs of ancient Martian life.

"Today we take another important step on our journey to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.”

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