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Engineers have called a pause in InSight’s drilling operation to insert a heat sensor as much as 16 feet into the Martian soil because it appears the drill has hit a large obstruction.
It penetrated to a depth between 18cm and 50cm into the Martian soil with 4,000 hammer blows over a period of four hours, explained Tilman Spohn, HP3’s principal investigator from the German space agency (DLR). “On its way into the depths, the mole seems to have hit a stone, tilted about 15 degrees and pushed it aside or passed it,” he added. “The mole then worked its way up against another stone at an advanced depth until the planned four-hour operating time of the first sequence expired.”
Prof Spohn said there would now be a break in operations of two weeks while the situation was assessed.
When these facts were first reported on March 1st, the press release did not make it clear at that time that the hammer drill was actually blocked. If it cannot drill down further, this will put a crimp in the heat sensor’s ability to measure Mars’s internal temperature. Right now it is only about a foot down, which on Earth would still have it influenced by surface temperatures.