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InSight falls silent, NASA declares mission end

InSight falls silent: Complicated machine sitting on reddish rocky terrain, with 2 umbrella-like dusty solar panels.
View larger. | InSight falls silent: The lander has been studying Mars’ subsurface and interior since it landed on November 26, 2018. After InSight failed to communicate, NASA retired it. Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.

Originally published by NASA on December 21, 2022. Edits by EarthSky.

The InSight Mars mission team has concluded that the solar-powered lander has run out of energy after more than four years on Mars. So NASA has retired InSight.

InSight falls silent after studying Mars for over four years

NASA’s InSight Mars mission has ended after more than four years of collecting unique science on Mars.

Mission controllers at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California were unable to contact the lander after two consecutive attempts, leading them to conclude the spacecraft’s solar-powered batteries have run out of energy.

InSight falls silent with no further communication received

NASA had previously decided to declare the mission over if the lander missed two communication attempts. The agency will continue to listen for a signal from the lander, just in case, but hearing from it at this point is considered unlikely. The last time InSight communicated with Earth was Dec. 15.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said:

I watched the launch and landing of this mission, and while saying goodbye to a spacecraft is always sad, the fascinating science InSight conducted is cause for celebration. The seismic data alone from this Discovery Program mission offers tremendous insights not just into Mars but other rocky bodies, including Earth.

InSight’s mission studied the interior of Mars

InSight set out to study the deep interior of Mars. The lander data has yielded details about Mars’ interior layers, the surprisingly strong remnants beneath the surface of its extinct magnetic dynamo, weather on this part of Mars, and lots of quake activity.

Its highly sensitive seismometer detected 1,319 marsquakes, including quakes caused by meteoroid impacts, the largest of which unearthed boulder-size chunks of ice late last year.

Such impacts help scientists determine the age of the planet’s surface, and data from the seismometer provides scientists a way to study the planet’s crust, mantle, and core.

Philippe Lognonné of Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, principal investigator of InSight’s seismometer, said:

With InSight, seismology was the focus of a mission beyond Earth for the first time since the Apollo missions, when astronauts brought seismometers to the moon. We broke new ground, and our science team can be proud of all that we’ve learned along the way.

The seismometer was the last instrument with power

The seismometer was the last science instrument that remained powered on as dust accumulating on the lander’s solar panels gradually reduced its energy, a process that began before NASA extended the mission earlier this year.

Laurie Leshin, director of JPL, which manages the mission, said:

InSight has more than lived up to its name. As a scientist who’s spent a career studying Mars, it’s been a thrill to see what the lander has achieved, thanks to an entire team of people across the globe who helped make this mission a success. Yes, it’s sad to say goodbye, but InSight’s legacy will live on, informing and inspiring.

Mars missions face challenges

All Mars missions face challenges, and InSight was no different. The lander featured a self-hammering spike – nicknamed “the mole” – that was intended to dig 16 feet (5 meters) down, trailing a sensor-laden tether that would measure heat within the planet, enabling scientists to calculate how much energy was left over from Mars’ formation.

Designed for the loose, sandy soil seen on other missions, the mole could not gain traction in the unexpectedly clumpy soil around InSight. The instrument eventually buried its 16-inch (40-centimeter) probe just slightly below the surface, collecting valuable data on the physical and thermal properties of the Martian soil along the way. This is useful for any future human or robotic missions that attempt to dig underground.

Primarily intended to set science instruments on the Martian surface, the arm and its small scoop also helped remove dust from InSight’s solar panels as power began to diminish. Counterintuitively, the mission determined they could sprinkle dirt from the scoop onto the panels during windy days, allowing the falling granules to gently sweep dust off the panels.

Saying goodbye to InSight

Bruce Banerdt of JPL, the mission’s principal investigator, commented:

We’ve thought of InSight as our friend and colleague on Mars for the past four years, so it’s hard to say goodbye. But it has earned its richly deserved retirement.

Read more: About the InSight mission

Bottom line: After NASA’s InSight Mars fell silent and then failed to communicate again, NASA declared the mission to be over. InSight landed on Mars on November 26, 2018, and its mission was to reveal secrets about the interior of Mars.

VIA NASA

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