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Update on effort to resume drilling of heat probe on InSight

Link here. It appears InSight’s camera cannot see the hammer drill, called “the mole,” that pushes the heat probe down, and to get a look and assess the problem they are going to use InSight’s robot arm to remove the equipment in the way.

The lifting sequence will begin in late June, with the arm grasping the support structure (InSight conducted some test movements recently). Over the course of a week, the arm will lift the structure in three steps, taking images and returning them so that engineers can make sure the mole isn’t being pulled out of the ground while the structure is moved. If removed from the soil, the mole can’t go back in.

They also have a theory as to what has stopped the drilling.

Team members now believe the most likely cause is an unexpected lack of friction in the soil around InSight – something very different from soil seen on other parts of Mars. The mole is designed so that loose soil flows around it, adding friction that works against its recoil, allowing it to dig. Without enough friction, it will bounce in place.

They can’t see it, as designed? It depends on the soil for friction? I am very puzzled at these design decisions.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Dick Eagleson

    So am I. Good thing that big drill in Armageddon wasn’t designed by these people or we would all have joined the dinosaurs back in the late Clinton administration. :-)

  • Lee S

    I have always been a bit skeptical of this little thing…. I thought “and if it hits a big pebble?”
    It seems it did!
    If, and it’s a big “IF” , Exo mars lands and operates as planned on mars, it’s 2 meter drill stands much more chance of returning valuable, and more importantly… Interesting science…
    It’s looking for life…. Past or present… But will be looking..
    This little mole thing ( should it succeed), will tell us about the temperature gradient in the crust of mars…
    Fantastic info for planetary geologists, but nothing to inspire the public….
    A NASA mission to out and out look for signs of life on Mars would inspire a new generation who don’t remember the Viking missions… The public don’t remember the Vikings unless they are of a certain age…
    But they are very interested in life elsewhere….
    Stop following the water…. Start looking for signs of life!

  • Edward

    Robert asked: “They can’t see it, as designed? It depends on the soil for friction?

    Although the video shows a full scale model of the support structure that has a transparent tube to hold the probe before deployment, the video also shows that the support structure on Mars is not transparent. I suspect that testing did not present the engineers with many problems, so looking at the probe did not seem to be necessary. Therefore, no transparent tube on the flight unit.

    At the 30-second point, the video shows the operation of the hammer within the probe. It works somewhat similarly as we use a hammer on Earth. We slowly raise the head to some height, then swing it down with force on the nail or anvil, where the sudden stop does the intended work, such as driving a nail or forging metal.

    Because the hammer is built within the probe (nail), every time the hammer head thrusts downward toward the impact surface, there can be a net upward force on the probe as the center of mass changes rapidly. If the probe were in free space or on a frictionless surface, it would vibrate in place. As it is, it seems that the engineers had counted upon more than just the Martian weight of the probe to keep it from bouncing upward during the hammer head’s downward acceleration.

    If a lack of friction turns out to be the cause of the trouble, this gives an interesting data point about Martian soil.

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