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NASA refuses to give up on its struggling Mars mole

After getting kicked out of the ground, the InSight lander mole is back to burrowing.

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The InSight lander is encouraging the mole to keep burrowing.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's InSight lander wants to dig into Mars to take its temperature, but Mars hasn't been cooperating. We got a glimmer of good news Thursday when the InSight team announced the mole is once again on the move.

InSight is equipped with the Heat and Physical Properties Package probe, better known by its "mole" nickname. The heat probe is designed to burrow down to a depth of 16 feet (5 meters) to collect data on the planet's temperature from the inside. It hasn't been easy.

NASA had some initial success with getting the mole to move, but it soon stalled and was even ejected halfway out of the ground in October. The space agency and the German Aerospace Center, which designed the heat probe, have been working out a new plan to save the mole.

The latest development gives us some room for optimism. InSight is using its robotic arm to apply pressure to the side of the mole where it's sticking out of the ground. The mole has now moved down roughly 1.25 inches (32 millimeters). That's not a lot, but it's forward progress.

InSight reached Mars in late 2018 and has already logged some impressive achievements, including listening for marsquakes and logging the haunting "sounds" of the red planet. NASA would love to get the heat probe cranking, but InSight will still provide plenty of Mars insights even if the mole doesn't make it.