InSight’s mole has popped out of its hole

My annual birthday-month fund-raising drive for Behind the Black is now on-going. Not only do your donations help pay my bills, they give me the freedom to speak honestly about science and culture, instead of being forced to write it as others demand.


Please consider donating by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:

If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


You can also support me by buying one of my books, as noted in the boxes interspersed throughout the webpage. And if you buy the books through the ebookit links, I get a larger cut and I get it sooner.

InSight's mole, out of the ground
Click for full image.

In a setback for its renewed digging effort, the mole drill on InSight has apparently bounced out of its drilled hole during the most recent drilling, soon after engineers had increased the rate of hammer strokes.

The image to the right shows the mole, the white cylinder on the left, with the scoop of the robot arm mostly covering the hole in its effort to pin the mole in position.

“While digging this weekend the mole backed about halfway out of the ground,” the mission announced via a pair of tweets Oct. 27. “Preliminary assessment points to unexpected soil properties as the main reason.”

…The mission added that one possibility is soil is falling in front of the mole, filling the hole. “Team continues to look over the data and will have a plan in the next few days.”

Without question the alien and fluffy properties of the soil appears to be the problem. Based on how the mole is leaning, I wonder if the left wall of the hole began to widen and collapse, as had the rest of the hole during initial drilling, thus defeating the purpose of the robot arm’s effort to pin the mole in place.



  • jay

    So basically they drop a pointy unit onto the ground. Inside is a solenoid that tries to knock the tip into the ground. There is no other leverage than gravity to hold itself from bouncing back out of the hole.
    It worked on Earth, in testing, in sand.
    In unknown soil conditions with reduced Mars gravity it bounces out of the hole.
    Who woulda thunk it.

  • Matthew Straney

    Do you think they’ve thought about digging a significant hole with the Arm Shovel and resting the mole in there? Giving it a boost of at least a whole hammers length

  • Questioner

    Matthew Straney:

    Good idea. You described their last chance to save the mole experiment. The whole thing is for the once proverbial German engineering art unfortunately not a glorious case and a shame for the DLR.

  • Col Beausabre

    Mathew, The problem with your idea, as Bob the Zee has pointed out earlier in another thread, is that the probe has to be surrounded by soil to give an accurate reading of the soil conditions. Just lying on top of soil gives you a combined soil and atmosphere reading.

  • wayne

    “You guys are NASA” scene

  • Gealon

    I have only one word for the design team. Very simple, very reliable. “Auger.” It doesn’t need to jump around with a fancy magnet driven weight. It drills a nice uniform hole through any soil one could imagine, not counting solid rock. And if by chance you think you’ll need to g through rock, it comes with attachments if you go to the right store.

    Yes I am oversimplifying it a little, but really, an inclined plane is one of the simplest tools in existence. All you need to do is rotate it. You doing have to hammer it into the ground with an electric pogo stick. Once the thing has drilled it’s hole, you drop your probe in and then use that handy little scoop, which is already on the lander, to fill the hole back in. Or if you really want to get fancy, build the temperature probe into the auger it’s self, that way you can just leave it in the hole. Either way, it would work a heck of a lot better both in low gravity and in unknown soil conditions than the electric pogo stick.

  • Waiting for NASA to announce the follow-on Whack-A-Mole mission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *