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NASA fixes Mars InSight lander by hitting itself with shovel to free it from Martian surface

Mollie Mansfield, March 24, 2020 6:45PM The Sun

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The shovel hits down on the top of the digging mole on the InSight Mars lander. Picture: NASA media_cameraThe shovel hits down on the top of the digging mole on the InSight Mars lander. Picture: NASA


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NASA engineers say they’ve fixed the Mars lander by telling it to hit itself with a shovel.

The InSight lander, which is currently on Mars, faced unexpected problems when its 38cm digging probe — also called a mole — became stuck in the soil.

After a few failed attempts, the mole was freed – thanks to NASA encouraging it to “hit itself” with the jackhammer-like shovel.

NASA revealed the news on Twitter, writing: “A bit of good news from #Mars: our new approach of using the robotic arm to push the mole appears to be working!

“The teams @NASAJPL/@DLR_en are excited to see the images and plan to continue this approach over the next few weeks. #SaveTheMole.”

media_cameraAn artist’s impression of the InSight lander on Mars. Picture: NASA

The risk of the operation was that it could have damaged the tether strap that provides power and communications from the lander to the mole. It is attached to the back part of the mole.

Images show the probe appears to be working again and NASA hopes to continue this technique with the shovel over the next few weeks as needed.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was republished with permission

The InSight’s mission is to study temperature changes under the surface of Mars, in an attempt to understand how similar Mars’ core is to Earth’s.

The mole is designed to dig down as far as 5m.

Sensors in the mole detect the temperatures down in the burrow and send this information back to the InSight lander via the tether strap.

The mole got stuck on February 28, 2019, the first day of digging.

The mole needs friction* from loose soil around it to travel downward. Without friction, it springs back from its self-hammering and just bounces up and down in the one place.

First, the InSight team tried pinning, which is using the robotic arm’s scoop to press on the side of the mole, adding just enough friction to help it dig without coming in contact with the fragile tether strap.

Pinning helped but the mole popped back out of the Martian soil on two occasions, possibly from soil building up from beneath.

A further option would be to use the shovel to move more soil into the hole where the mole is digging to help it work as it was designed to.

Learn more about NASA’s Mars mission at

Source: NASA

NASA's InSight Spacecraft Launches From Vandenberg Air Force Base media_cameraThe Atlas 5 rocket carrying the Mars InSight probe launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, US on May 5, 2018. Picture: Getty/AFP


  • friction: resistance, or drag, created when one object moves against another


InSight spacecraft lands safely on Mars

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Mars house plans revealed

Massive Mars lake discovery


  1. What is the Mars landing craft called?
  2. What does the tether strap do?
  3. How far should the mole be able to dig?
  4. When did the mole start digging?
  5. What could they try next to solve the problem?


1. Mars Mission
After reading the Kids News article about the problems with the digging probe or Mole, on the InSight lander, work with a partner to complete a table with three columns. Label your columns:

What I know about Mars

What I learnt about the InSight lander

What I would like to know about Mars or the InSight lander and Mole

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Personal and social

2. Extension
You might have seen your Mum or Dad bang some things to get them working again, or possibly making it even worse! Work with a partner to brainstorm some other things you can think of that might possibly get fixed by hitting it?

Do you think this is a good technical solution?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and social, Critical and creative thinking

Up-Level Mars
Scan through the article and see if you can locate three words that you consider to be basic, or low level. Words we use all the time and they can be replaced by more sophisticated words, words like good and said are examples of overused words.

Once you have found them, see if you can up-level them. Think of synonyms you could use instead of these basic words, but make sure they still fit into the context of the article.

Re-read the article with your new words.

Did it make it better?

Why/Why not?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Which space missions are you most interested in?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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