Do you remember on the Sid & Marty Krofft show The Lost Saucer when Ruth Buzzi and Jim Nabors , as robots Fi and Fum, objected to the human kids aboard their flying saucer attempting to fix the saucer’s computer by hitting it? The kids explained that was how their mother fixed the washing machine when it was uncooperative. NASA just used a similar method to fix the Mars InSight lander when its digging probe got stuck in the crusty Martian soil.
NASA ordered the lander to hit itself with a shovel.
Popular Science reported InSight’s digging probe, called the Mole, was unable to do its job because the soil of Mars was far more clumpy than scientists on Earth had anticipated and the Mole got stuck in the soil. Terran engineers had expected loose sand, and engineers at the German Aerospace Center ( Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt or DLR)had designed the Mole to “bounce up and down like a jackhammer, sinking with each stroke and threading its way around any modestly sized rocks it encountered. But the probe has found soil that seems more dirt-like than sand-like; It sticks together and doesn’t collapse around the mole to give it enough friction to dig.”
The Mole is the measurement probe of InSight’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (or HP3 ). Its goal is to track the temperature variations of Mars itself.
InSight started digging February 28 and researchers realized March 2 that it wasn’t going any deeper. Tilman Spohn of the German space agency DLR, principal investigator for HP3, at first thought the Mole had hit a rock.
Engineers on Earth spent several weeks on simulations before risking damaging fragile power and communication lines. Sending a repair crew to Mars is too expensive to be practical, so after a couple of months of terrestrial testing to make sure the trick could actually work, the NASA scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratory freed the Mole by ordering InSight to hit itself with its shovel.
It was certainly an unorthodox idea, but as the saying goes, “Necessity is a real mother.”
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.