Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

New InSight image of mole shows collapse of hole

View of InSight drill hole
Click for full movie.

The InSight science image has lifted the lander’s rover arm off the drill hole and taken a new series of images in an effort to discover what caused the mole to pop out during its most recent drilling effort.

The image to the right, cropped to post here, was the first in a short movie made from all the images taken over the course of a day. The sequence shows the change in shadows, which helps define the situation in the hole.

This image however I think tells all. It shows that the walls of the hole have collapsed all around the mole, widening it further. It also shows that, once the mole popped out to lean sideways against the left wall, much of that material then fell into the hole, refilling it. These facts are very evident when today’s image is compared with this image from October, taken prior to the most recent drilling effort. The hole has become much wider, there is more material inside it, and the mole is now much farther out.

All these facts bode ill for the mole ever succeeding in drilling down the planned fifteen or so feet to insert a heat probe into the interior of Mars in order to take the first ever measure of the planet’s interior.

An overall assessment of this NASA mission is not very positive. The contribution from its international partners is especially bad. The mission was launched two years late because the French effort to build the seismometer failed. NASA had to subsequently give the job to JPL to get it done. Now the heat sensor is a failure, because the German-built mole has failed to get the heat sensor where it needs to be.

The seismometer and heat sensor were InSight’s only science instruments. This means that we will likely only get results from one.

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  • Richard M

    The heat sensor prospects are not looking good, but it does seem we’re getting valuable data from the SEIS seismometer and atmospheric conditions from the Temperature and Winds for InSight (TWINS), so it won’t be a complete bust. Still worth the price (which wasn’t all that much, relatively speaking), but it is definitely a disappointment if the mole turns out to be a failure. Clearly some re-thinking is in order there.

    Or we could just wait for SpaceX to get there?

  • Ken

    I keep asking myself “why not an auger”?

  • Gealon

    I said the same in the last update Ken.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Richard M,

    I’d be quite willing to bet that SpaceX will be there before NASA and the Euros can gin up any sort of replacement. Given that Elon now runs a tunnel-drilling company too, I’m thinking that getting a piddly five meters into Mars with a dinky drill whose working principal seems to resemble a cranky toddler jumping up and down is not going to look very ambitious or cutting edge compared to whatever SpaceX brings along in the way of equipment. Anyone on SpaceX’s first human Mars expedition would likely be able to do better than Insight on his own with no drill technology more advanced than that used by John Henry the Steel Drivin’ Man.

  • Lee S

    Well, ExoMars is due to launch in the next window, and should drill down about 6 of your American feet ;-)
    IF it lands safely and performs as designed..
    I am excited about the next missions to Mars, but remain skeptical about the ESA mission, we have a real crappy record regarding landing on Mars… ( Zero percent thus far..)…
    On a sidenote, I wish that at least one of the upcoming missions had the ability to confirm or refute the Viking experiments results… I understand that testing for some form of life is hard, but it seems to me that a bowl of water, a little sugar and a microscope would not be a hard experiment to put together…

  • Lee S: The wet cup experiments on Curiosity are actually an attempt to duplicate the Viking tests. Though I don’t know for sure right now, I suspect strongly that the Mars2020 rover will carry the same.

  • pzatchok

    I was thinking what about the Rods From God idea?

    20 foot hollow rods with everything they need inside.
    A hardened tip and grid fins guidance.
    An antenna could be trailed out of the tail for 100 feet that will just fall on the ground after impact. A small parachute could be used to stretch it out in the winds.

    If we can make nuclear bombs that can take being fired out of a howitzer then this shouldn’t be too bad.

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