Mars Lander Fixes Problem by Hitting Itself With a Shovel

Sometimes, the best solution for a problem really is the simplest one

NASA InSight Lander on the surface of Mars
It was the InSight lander, on the surface of Mars, with the shovel.
NASA/JPL-Caltech
By Tobias Carroll / March 20, 2020 12:40 pm

Odds are good that at some point, you’ve watched and enjoyed a film about the hard-working, intelligent people at NASA solving a problem in space while remaining earthbound themselves. Apollo 13Hidden Figures and The Right Stuff all abound with such moments, blending human drama with the thrill that comes from figuring out a solution to a seemingly-insurmountable issue.

This week, NASA’s Mars lander encountered a problem on the red planet that needed to be debugged and fixed remotely. But here, the solution was less The Martian and more Idiocracy — specifically, they solved the problem by telling the lander to hit itself with a shovel. It’s kind of like the “stop hitting yourself” trope, but in space.

At Futurism, Dan Robitzski has the details. The issue had to do with the InSight lander, which was using a probe to dig into Martian soil. Trouble is, the soil was more dense than expected — and so the probe got stuck. The scientists studying the probe back on Earth ran a number of simulations to determine the best way of freeing it.

While the solution wasn’t quite “have you tried turning it off and on again,” it might well bring back memories of household repairs gone awry — albeit with a side order of space exploration.

After a few failed attempts to get it out, NASA had to get a bit creative. Ultimately, it freed the probe up by giving it a solid thwack with InSight’s shovel.

It’s worth mentioning that this decision was made after several months of tests and simulations. Still, the blend of low-tech and high-tech is one for the ages — even as InSight’s work helps us better understand the cosmos around us.

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