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Mole at a 2018 conference in San Luis Obispo, California (before the Mole started digging). Hudson says that the Mole’s travails have taken a toll on his morale, but he and the team remain doggedly committed. (Tyler Pratt / KCBX) LGBT Love Is Love 3D Cap
Carried on an Atlas V rocket, InSight was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in May 2018. Six months later, the 794-pound lander touched down in a smooth plain named Elysium Planitia. Over the next three months, all of the scientific instruments were placed on the Martian surface by the Instrument Deployment Arm, a 5-foot-9-inch-long contraption able to articulate at three joints.
The Mole began hammering in February 2019, and immediately breached the surface. The team had commanded 5,000 hammer strokes, which should have taken the Mole down more than two feet. Instead, it barely reached halfway. Three days later there was another round of hammering. “Initially, it was moving down faster than we expected, so it was completely exhilarating,” Smrekar recalls. “Then it just stopped, and we were all crushed. We were afraid that it had hit a rock, and if the rock was big enough, it would have been ‘game over.’ ”
But Smrekar and company didn’t lose hope. Even as Spohn detailed all the problems the Mole had encountered on the DLR mission blog, his posts were full of cheerful comments such as “More surprises on Mars!” and “Stay tuned, it is not at all over, but the Mole is not making our lives easier these days!”
With progress stalled, an international Anomaly Response Team formed to come up with on-the-fly solutions. The next month brought a series of diagnostic hammering events, with InSight’s seismometer calibrated to provide additional information. Scientists suspected that the Martian regolith wasn’t providing the friction necessary to compensate for the recoil. Instead of allowing the Mole to burrow deeper into the ground, each hammer stroke was causing it to back out of the hole.
But the data was ambiguous, and the team couldn’t see what they called “the Mole hole.” They decided to move the support structure out of the way to open up the field of view of the 3D camera mounted on the articulating arm. In June 2019, the Instrument Deployment System Operations Team (or “Arm Team”) began repositioning the support structure and trained the lens on the Mole hole. The images downloaded to JPL shocked the team.