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