This Mars Lander Will Soon Retire After 4 Years Of Hard Work
It's been a busy three and a half years for the InSight team, which is responsible for the Mars lander that’s been collecting seismic and geological information on the red planet.
Since the lander touched down on Mars in 2018, Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists have watched it beam back a constant stream of data from its array of instruments — ranging from cameras to a state-of-the-art seismometer.
Last week the craft picked up a magnitude 5 quake — the largest ever detected on another planet in our solar system. A few days later, InSight's available energy fell to a level limiting it to essential functions, signaling the impending end of its mission.
I made the most of my time listening intently as Mars shed some of its secrets, including detecting more than 1,300 quakes.— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) May 17, 2022
Read more science highlights: https://t.co/vy04a5yXPX
Send me and my team a postcard: https://t.co/okiQTHpmOo pic.twitter.com/iF0KwANF80
The mission has lasted a year and a half longer than expected, but InSight's running out of power — because of the dust collecting on its solar panels.
It will soon begin shutting down and go completely dark by the end of the year.
The lander is near and dear to Bruce Banerdt, the lead scientist for the mission.
"InSight was actually selected on my birthday," he said. "So every time InSight has a birthday, I have a birthday too."
As my power levels diminish due to dust on my solar panels, my team has set my retirement plans in motion. Plans call for a gradual shutdown of instruments, including resting my arm in a “retirement pose.”— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) May 17, 2022
Read more: https://t.co/eATDXbOlx2 pic.twitter.com/OsbsufAvmi
Banerdt said the craft's legacy will live on far beyond its lifespan.
InSight has proven to be a valuable tool for understanding Mars’ interior.
"We've taken images, and we've made measurements of the surface of Mars for the last 50 years," Banerdt said. "InSight is the first mission that actually shone a light beneath the surface of Mars and showed us what the rest of the planet looks like."
And that, in turn, is giving scientists clues about how Mars formed billions of years ago.
Lori Glaze, the director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said data is also helping them think differently about the other rocky planets in our solar system — and the thousands of exoplanets that have been found beyond it.
“We will think forward to the sunset of the spacecraft,” she said, “but not the sunset of the science.”
After the lander's final transmission, mission scientists will pour through its data for a few more months — which they hope will yield even more discoveries.
Three years ago today, I made my new home here. It’s been a place of solitude and reflection (quite literally), as I quietly focus on the seismic waves bouncing around beneath my feet. Each marsquake teaches me a little more about this place, and I’m glad to keep listening. pic.twitter.com/tANDSkeUEN— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) November 26, 2021