The 5 Biggest Tech Failures on Mars

Efforts to get the mole working in July 2019. The effort was abandoned in January 2021.
Gif: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The most recent disappointment on the Red Planet is the saga of the mole, aka the heat probe of NASA’s InSight lander. NASA officially gave up on this part of the ongoing mission a month ago, after more than a year of trying to get it to work. The robotic digger was supposed to burrow deep underground and gather data on Mars’ interior goings-on. But trouble began in early 2019, when the probe couldn’t seem to get more than an inch under the soil. Engineers on Earth tried a few strategies to get it moving, including pinning it down with the lander’s robotic arm. Alas, the soil just wouldn’t cooperate. Where the team expected to find loose regolith, they instead ran up against “duricrust,” a thick, cement-like material. “We’ve given it everything we’ve got, but Mars and our heroic mole remain incompatible,” said the project’s principal investigator, Tilman Spohn, in January 2021. “Fortunately, we’ve learned a lot that will benefit future missions that attempt to dig into the subsurface.”

All these painful memories make the successes even sweeter, and we’re looking forward to all the new science to come from the Perseverance rover.

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