NASA's InSight probe landed successfully on Mars in November 2018. -

AOES medialab M.Thiebaut / AP / SIPA

NASA announced this Thursday the end of the mission of the machine programmed to dig the soil of the planet Mars as part of the InSight mission.

The thermal probe nicknamed "the mole" encountered technical difficulties which led to the decision, the US space agency explained on its website.

“One phase ends, another begins,” the organization also commented on Twitter.

One phase ends, and another begins…

Last weekend, the mole made a final attempt to dig farther underground on Mars.

Even with all the steps we've taken to #SaveTheMole, it seems there's just not enough friction in this soil to keep it moving downward.


- NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) January 14, 2021

The other aspects of the scientific mission are in fact not abandoned.

The schedule has even been extended by two years to allow them to be completed.

InSight will thus collect information on earthquakes, on the nature of the core of the planet using radio waves, as well as meteorological data.

However, the drilling and temperature readings that the machine was to perform at a depth of 5 meters will not have been carried out.

Can't drill the ground

A last attempt to succeed in this part of the mission took place, in vain, on January 9th.

As for a year and a half, InSight has not been able to sink into this particular type of soil, which does not offer enough friction for the probe to progress there.

The situation baffled the engineers at NASA.

The device was designed to drill different materials resembling those previously seen on Mars.

"The mole" sank 2 or 3 centimeters while its measuring equipment can only operate from three meters deep.

The modifications made by specialists to adapt to the conditions encountered since February 28, 2019 were not enough.

"We have done everything in our power to meet this extraordinary challenge," NASA commented.

What we have learned we will use in future missions ”.


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