NASA’s InSight lander loses power, retires on Mars

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On Mars, another machine just bit the dust. The marsquake-detecting, photo-gazing InSight lander has now officially completed its mission and will now spend its retirement in the same place where it spent its career – sitting on a flat plain on the surface of Mars, as dust slowly accumulates on its solar panels and other instruments.

We’ve known for a while that this was coming. InSight’s solar panels, which generate electricity for the lander, have been covered in dust since they unfolded. The mission, officially known as the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight), was expected to run out of power this summer, but a flurry of good weather added a few more months of work on Mars.

But that time is up. NASA is monitoring the status of the lander and when it became clear that it would not make it, the agency decided first person Status updates from the first lander became increasingly emotional. The lander’s official Twitter account told followers in October that it “remained calm” as a dust storm darkened the sky. The team thanked the fans for it send virtual postcards and insured the millions of people sending their names to the rover that “we are together here on Mars, my eternal home.”

Tweet from Insight's Twitter account.  The tweet reads: “My power is very low so this may be the last image I can send.  But don't worry about me: my time here has been both productive and serene.  If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will - but I'll be signing off here shortly.  Thank you for staying with me.”

The sun is very low, big fellow.
Image: NASA Insight

Dec. 15 was the last time the InSight lander communicated with Earth, NASA said in a press release. The agency will continue to listen, but after the mission team failed to make contact with the lander, they determined that InSight’s batteries were likely dead, rendering it functionally dead.

While the seismometer was an unqualified success, another instrument on the lander had problems. InSight had a “mole” designed to hammer itself deep into the surface. Unfortunately, the ground at the landing site wasn’t as soft as the team expected, and the mole kept coming out.

Still, the mission was so successful that in April NASA decided to extend the mission through the end of this year — or until the lander ran out of power, whichever comes first.

“We’ve considered InSight as our friend and colleague on Mars for the past four years, so it’s hard to say goodbye,” Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator, said in a press release. “But it has earned its well-earned retirement.”

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