Unexpected soil conditions force NASA to abandon key InSight lander objective

Shawn Knight

Posts: 12,895   +125
Staff member
In brief: The overall goal of the mission is to study the interior of Mars, and one of the tools that was supposed to help in this endeavor was a heat probe nicknamed “the mole.” The 16-inch-long pile driver is tethered to the lander and has temperature sensors embedded within. NASA aimed to use the tool to burrow down into the Martian surface to a minimum depth of at least 10 feet and record temperature data, but it simply wasn’t meant to be.

NASA has waived the white flag on one of its lander projects, conceding that the Martian surface simply didn’t react to the tool as intended.

The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) robotic lander launched aboard an Atlas V-401 rocket on May 5, 2018, and successfully touched down on the Red Planet on November 26, 2018.

The probe encountered issues almost immediately, and after several starts, stops and plenty of troubleshooting, the team was ultimately unable to reach a significant depth.

“We’ve given it everything we’ve got, but Mars and our heroic mole remain incompatible,” said Tilman Spohn, principal investigator of the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package.

It is believed that unexpected tendencies of the Martian soil prevented the spike-like mole from obtaining the friction it needed to hammer itself deeper.

The team will used the wisdom it gained from the failed mission in future objectives. InSight, meanwhile, will carry on with other science tasks, as NASA recently extended the overall mission by two additional years.

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QuantumPhysics

Posts: 4,322   +4,578
I honestly don't see the logic in spending this much money right now on remote sensing. Better to spend the money developing a launching platform in space, sending vehicles to/from Mars manned and doing the studies on Mars in person.

I mean...for the amount of money we've spend sending Rovers, I could have literally built a "starship" to travel between the moon, Earth and Mars.
 

Lew Zealand

Posts: 1,714   +1,817
I honestly don't see the logic in spending this much money right now on remote sensing. Better to spend the money developing a launching platform in space, sending vehicles to/from Mars manned and doing the studies on Mars in person.

I mean...for the amount of money we've spend sending Rovers, I could have literally built a "starship" to travel between the moon, Earth and Mars.
And you'd be dead from radiation poisoning.
 
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wiyosaya

Posts: 5,615   +3,805
I honestly don't see the logic in spending this much money right now on remote sensing. Better to spend the money developing a launching platform in space, sending vehicles to/from Mars manned and doing the studies on Mars in person.

I mean...for the amount of money we've spend sending Rovers, I could have literally built a "starship" to travel between the moon, Earth and Mars.
Armchair rocket building? I thought only Musk did that. 🤣
 

McKocoa

Posts: 20   +31
I believe it was a faulty design, an oversight. They had a hammer that would slam into the probe to drive it into the soil, like a pile driver. As it turns out, instead of the driving the probe into the soil, the hammers force would lift the whole rover off the surface and the probe would barely move into the ground. I highly doubt the 'unexpected' composition of Martian soil/rock was the problem, more likely a poorly designed and implemented auger system, possibly bad math. Either a different drilling mechanism was needed or the rover itself needed to be secured and stabilized before hammering.
 

Irata

Posts: 1,225   +1,958
Umm...

The ISS???

Space Shuttle?
The ISS is protected by earth‘s magnetic field.

There are two particular problems for astronauts on missions beyond the Earth's orbit. Firstly, the astronauts will be beyond the protection of both the Earth’s atmosphere and its magnetic field. This means that the general level of radiation will be far higher than on board the ISS, which is in orbit 400 km above the Earth. In just a few days, an astronaut travelling to Mars would receive the equivalent of a year of radiation exposure here on Earth.
https://www.esa.int/Science_Explora...Exploration/Lessons_online/Radiation_and_life
 

Raytrace3D

Posts: 220   +221
I honestly don't see the logic in spending this much money right now on remote sensing. Better to spend the money developing a launching platform in space, sending vehicles to/from Mars manned and doing the studies on Mars in person.

I mean...for the amount of money we've spend sending Rovers, I could have literally built a "starship" to travel between the moon, Earth and Mars.
I would want to learn as much as possible about the environment before sending humans there. They've learned so much already. Mars is a death trap without the proper protection and understanding how the soil is will help to understand a number of things, such as the amount of poisonous materials exist as well as what type of protection it can provide. In addition, understanding the material can go a long way in knowing how to potentially use the material for building. I'd say, even though the mission "failed", they gained important information we didn't have.

Honestly, I would be shocked if the first humans that go to Mars survive. lol There are a lot of hurtles to overcome and I'm sure that whoever goes, the rest of us here on Earth are going to be taking notes. lol I personally wouldn't want to be the first few groups going. lol
 

terzaerian

Posts: 472   +604
The Virgin Insight:
-Spindly from poor diet
-Probe cannot penetrate Martian soil
-Powered by fruity renewable energies like a Prius
-Just produces more in a long series of pictures of the surface of mars
-Mission is to study dirt
-Cost less than a billion dollars
-People are hardly aware it exists

The Chad Viking:
-Solid, robust frame
-Beefy robot arm easily penetrated the surface of Mars
-Powered by badass nuclear batteries like the Batmobile
-Produced the first high-resolution photos of Mars's surface ever seen by man
-Mission was to seek out new life
-Cost over a billion dollar in the 70s, which equates to 5 billion today, absolute legend
-Pop culture icon to rival the Apollo program itself, has cameoed in everything from Calvin and Hobbes to Mac and Me
 
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Shadowboxer

Posts: 1,280   +907
I honestly don't see the logic in spending this much money right now on remote sensing. Better to spend the money developing a launching platform in space, sending vehicles to/from Mars manned and doing the studies on Mars in person.

I mean...for the amount of money we've spend sending Rovers, I could have literally built a "starship" to travel between the moon, Earth and Mars.
Rubbish. Have you not seen the documentary “the martian”? They sent Matt Damon up there and he barely made it back! It’s a lot harder than people think to get to Mars. A ship you designed would definitely have killed him!
 
I believe it was a faulty design, an oversight. They had a hammer that would slam into the probe to drive it into the soil, like a pile driver. As it turns out, instead of the driving the probe into the soil, the hammers force would lift the whole rover off the surface and the probe would barely move into the ground. I highly doubt the 'unexpected' composition of Martian soil/rock was the problem, more likely a poorly designed and implemented auger system, possibly bad math. Either a different drilling mechanism was needed or the rover itself needed to be secured and stabilized before hammering.
Simply put they landed on top of solid rock instead of the expected fractured or granular rock. Always the risk on judging sub-surface conditions based on observed or measured surface conditions - ask any earth based geologist. But you gotta try: probably had a >80% chance of success but it wasn't to be. BTW - augers don't go through solid or fracture rock; for that you need diamond or silicon carbide drill bits; and a lot of energy to drive them - as Elon Musk said: you need a Tesla (even a model 3 would do) on the planet - then you could do experiments like this independent of the actual sub-surface conditions.
 
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mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,767   +1,012
Simply put they landed on top of solid rock instead of the expected fractured or granular rock. Always the risk on judging sub-surface conditions based on observed or measured surface conditions - ask any earth based geologist. But you gotta try: probably had a >80% chance of success but it wasn't to be. BTW - augers don't go through solid or fracture rock; for that you need diamond or silicon carbide drill bits; and a lot of energy to drive them - as Elon Musk said: you need a Tesla (even a model 3 would do) on the planet - then you could do experiments like this independent of the actual sub-surface conditions.
My understanding is that it was the opposite: they landed on unexpectedly soft and 'mobile' soil (think sandy, dusty). They were fine through the first few centimeters, because of ice, but after they got through the layer of icy soil, they were faced with a texture where the drill spun, but did not pull itself deeper.

But I am just repeating internet rumor. I may be wrong.
 
My understanding is that it was the opposite: they landed on unexpectedly soft and 'mobile' soil (think sandy, dusty). They were fine through the first few centimeters, because of ice, but after they got through the layer of icy soil, they were faced with a texture where the drill spun, but did not pull itself deeper.

But I am just repeating internet rumor. I may be wrong.
Yeah, I heard the rumour that the stability of the lander compromised the "drilling" leading me to say "hard" instead of "soft". Either way the comment on the sub-surface condition vs the surface condition apply. It certainly would help if NASA was a bit more technical and bit less political (cover their ***) in their statements.