NASA’s InSight has sent its final communication home. We knew the end was coming for this incredible landing, but it’s still sad to say goodbye. The robotic explorer has revolutionized our knowledge of the Red Planet, enabling a detailed understanding of the Martian interior. After nearly 1,500 Martian days of work, more than twice as long as originally planned, InSight turned off its instruments and its mission was over.
Before we discuss the incredible achievements of this mission and the fantastic work of the engineers and scientists behind it, join us in cursing the Martian dust for once again terminating one of the robots we sent there.
InSight’s solar panels accumulated dust over time, and without dust devils around the craft to blow the dust off them, the power they could get continued to drop. Earlier this year it became clear that InSight could not clear them, and all instruments but the seismometers were stopped to conserve energy. Recently, even this instrument could only stay lit for a limited time each day.
NASA declared the mission complete because InSight lost two consecutive communication sessions. The lander talks to us through the five spacecraft in the Martian relay network. Its silence is revealing, proving that it no longer works. NASA’s Deep Space Network will continue to listen for each case for a while, but no special efforts will be made to restore communications. The only thing that might save InSight is wind that could clear the solar panels, but that seems highly unlikely at this stage.
It is no exaggeration to state how much InSight has expanded our understanding of the Red Planet. Data collected by the lander informed us about the internal structure of Mars and provided new understanding of the planet’s extinct magnetic field and the weather on Elysium Planitia, where InSight landed on November 26, 2018
“Finally, we can see Mars as a layered planet, with different thicknesses, compositions,” explained mission principal investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a statement. “We’re starting to tinker with the details. Now it’s not just that conundrum. it’s actually a living, breathing planet.”
And, of course, InSight will be remembered for discovering marsquakes in 2019. Since then it has recorded over 1,000 marsquakes and even the tremors caused by meteorites hitting the planet. The strongest earthquake on record was in May 2022, which produced five times more than any previously recorded, lasting more than four hours.
“The seismometer on the InSight lander has recorded thousands of tremors, but never one this big, and it took more than three years after landing to register,” Professor Caroline Beghein said of the big quake. “This earthquake generated different kinds of waves, including two types of near-surface trapped waves. Only one of these two has been observed on Mars before, after two impact events, never during an earthquake.”
The data collected is invaluable and will provide scientific breakthroughs for decades to come. InSight, you have earned more than your balance.