The Mars digger was declared dead by NASA on Thursday after failing to burrow deep into the red planet to take its temperature.
Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.
Mars Digger InSight’s mission:
The Digger was supposed to bury 16 feet (5 meters) into Mars, but only drilled down a couple of feet (about a half meter). Scientists in Germany spent two years trying to get their heat probe, dubbed the mole, to drill into the Martian crust.
But the 16-inch-long (40-centimeter) device that is part of NASA’s InSight lander couldn’t gain enough friction in the red dirt.
Sensors embedded in the tether are designed to measure heat flowing from the planet once the mole has dug at least 10 feet (3 meters) deep.
The mission team has been working to help the mole burrow to at least that depth so that it can take Mars’ temperature.
The mole was designed so that loose soil would flow around it, providing friction against its outer hull so that it can dig deeper.
Without this friction, the mole just bounces in place as it hammers into the ground. But the soil where InSight landed is different than what previous missions have encountered: During hammering, the soil sticks together, forming a small pit around the device instead of collapsing around it and providing the necessary friction.
The mole was formally called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, and was built and provided to NASA by the German Space Agency (DLR).
Following one last unsuccessful attempt to hammer itself down over the weekend with 500 strokes, the team called it quits.
NASA’s Next Mission:
The lander recently was granted a two-year extension for scientific work, now lasting until the end of 2022.
The effort will benefit future excavation efforts at Mars, he added in a statement. Astronauts one day may need to dig into Mars, according to NASA, in search of frozen water for drinking or making fuel, or signs of past microscopic life.
InSight’s French seismometer, meanwhile, has recorded nearly 500 Marsquakes, while the lander’s weather station is providing daily reports. On Tuesday, the high was 17 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 8 degrees Celsius) and the low was minus 56 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 49 degrees Celsius) at Mars’ Elysium Planitia, an equatorial plain.
InSight landed on Mars in November 2018. It will be joined by NASA’s newest rover, Perseverance, which will attempt a touchdown on Feb. 18. The Curiosity rover has been roaming Mars since 2012.