RIP: Mars digger bites the dust after 2 years on the red planet

NASA has declared the Mars digger dead after failing to go deep into the Red Planet to take his temperature.

German scientists spent two years trying to get their thermal probe, dubbed the mole, to drill into the Martian crust. But the 16-inch-long (40-centimeter) device that is part of NASA’s InSight lander couldn’t gain enough friction in the red dirt. It was supposed to bury 16 feet (5 meters) in Mars, but was only drilled a few feet (about half a meter).

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After a final unsuccessful attempt to crash over the weekend with 500 hits, the team decided to quit on Thursday.

“We gave him everything we have, but Mars and our heroic mole remain incompatible,” said Tilman Spohn, senior scientist on the experiment, from the German Space Agency.

The effort will benefit future excavation efforts on Mars, he added in a statement. According to NASA, astronauts may one day have to dig on Mars, looking for frozen water to drink or make fuel, or signs of past microscopic life.

The design of the mole was based on Martian soil examined by previous spacecraft. It was nothing like the lumpy dirt encountered this time.

InSight’s French seismometer, meanwhile, has recorded nearly 500 earthquakes, while the lander’s weather station provides daily reports. On Tuesday, the high was 17 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 8 degrees Celsius) and the low was minus 56 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 49 degrees Celsius) at Elysium Planitia de Mars, an equatorial plain.

The lander recently got a two-year extension for its science work, which now lasts until the end of 2022.

InSight landed on Mars in November 2018. It will be joined by NASA’s latest rover, Perseverance, which will attempt a landing on February 18. The Curiosity rover has been traveling in Mars since 2012.

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