The NASA InSight Mars lander arrived to the red planet four years ago, and it has been operating long over the two-year deadline that was initially set for the project. Over the next several weeks or months, though, the lander will send its last transmissions home.
As Martian dust settles on the lander’s solar panels, the device loses its capacity to store energy and will soon be unable to complete its seismology task, preventing scientists from learning more about the red planet’s innards via seismology.
This week, NASA announced in a blog post how its 30-person InSight team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California is beginning to wind down the program.
Command and control
The crew is trying to get the most out of InSight in its remaining months, thus managing the lander’s dwindling power supply has taken on increased significance.
InSight’s seismometer and data transmission to Earth have been maintained using power management strategies, including the temporary shutdown of all research equipment earlier this summer.
Properly archiving all the data obtained by InSight over the years and making it accessible to scholars worldwide is a significant part of the team’s remaining effort.
“The lander data has given insights about the deep layers of Mars, its liquid core, the unexpectedly changeable remains under the surface of its largely defunct magnetic field, weather on this area of Mars, and a lot of seismic activity,” the researchers added.
According to JPL’s Bruce Banerdt, “Mars is no longer just this mystery; it’s truly a live, breathing planet” because of the lander’s findings.
A full-scale engineering model of InSight, the sister ship of ForeSight, is included in the shipment. The machine is housed at JPL, and it served as a rehearsal space for the robotic arm that would eventually be utilized to deploy research equipment on Mars by the InSight rover. It helped researchers determine the best approach for inserting the lander’s heat probe into the planet’s surface and helped them devise strategies to lower the amount of background noise picked up by InSight’s seismometer.
ForeSight will be boxed up and put into storage now that its mission is over.
Banerdt reassured me that I wouldn’t have to worry about the item being damaged during shipping. “It’s been an excellent resource and reliable friend during the whole expedition.”
The Mission Is Over
If InSight fails to make contact with the Mars orbiter for two consecutive sessions and NASA determines that InSight is to blame, the mission will be formally terminated.
Do we have any options to extend the mission? The scientists would have more time to work with the lander if a powerful gust of Martian wind blasted the dust off of InSight’s solar panels, but this is very improbable.
The team will try to keep working with InSight until it makes its last message, but no one knows when that will be.
Banerdt said, “We’ll keep making scientific measurements for as long as we can.”