The InSight lander's heat probe is stuck, and scientists aren't sure why.
NASA's Mars InSight lander has been a star on the Red Planet. It touched down in November and has since snapped lovely landscapes, deployed a seismometer and unleashed a burrowing heat probe known as the "mole." Everything was going great until the mole got stuck under the surface in February.
NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), whose engineers designed the heat probe (also known as the Heat and Physical Properties Package, or HP3), have come up with an initial plan to help crack the mystery of why the mole isn't moving.
NASA and DLR both issued updates on the project on Thursday. One big question is whether the mole hit a single rock or came up against a gravel layer. There's also some concern the probe itself or its cable could be hung up on something inside the housing that's supposed to protect it.
The mole works by hammering down into the ground to measure the heat coming from the interior of Mars. The InSight team now plans to conduct a hammering test lasting up to 15 minutes later this month. The lander's seismometer will listen to the mole and hopefully pick up clues about what stopped its progress.
InSight will also train its camera on the mole's above-ground support structure to look for movement. The mole is designed to burrow down as far as 16 feet (5 meters), but only made it a matter of inches before stopping.
If the InSight team can solve the puzzle of what's hiding there under the surface of Mars, it may be able to revive the mole's mission to explore the hidden inner life of the Red Planet.