NASA’s Mars InSight Mission Is Officially Over

Saying goodbye is never easy, even when it’s directed toward a 794-pound Martian lander that no human has directly laid eyes on since 2018. Still, the internet is awash in obituaries for NASA’s InSight lander, the first spacecraft to document a marsquake, as it signed off for the last time. A NASA news release on Wednesday officially marked the end of the InSight mission, though the lander’s swan song began days earlier.

On Monday, the InSight mission’s official Twitter account posted a farewell message that could only be described as giving “my battery is low and it’s getting dark.”

InSight’s mission team knew the end was…near (not going to make the easy pun) for several months. Like its predecessor Opportunity, Martian dust covered InSight’s solar panels and led to its demise—in May, the Associated Press reported that InSight was generating just 10 percent of the power it had once been able to.

Although it could never realize its full potential, InSight is shuffling off this mortal coil having inarguably added volumes to our understanding of Mars. Its seismometer measured over 1,300 marsquakes, helping researchers understand the phenomena and infer the size and contents of Mars’ layers. But another facet of the lander—a heat probe called “the mole” designed to dig multiple feet below the Martian surface—came up short, only making it a few inches before it was stymied by clumping soil.

“InSight has more than lived up to its name,” Laurie Leshin, the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in the news release. “Yes, it’s sad to say goodbye, but InSight’s legacy will live on, informing and inspiring.”

According to NASA, the determination that the mission officially ended—and, by extension, the declaration that the lander is in “dead bus” state, the engineering equivalent of calling something “clinically dead”—was made once the lander missed two communication sessions in a row with a spacecraft orbiting Mars. InSight’s last communication with Earth occurred on December 15. NASA’s international Deep Space Network will continue listening for any signs of activity from InSight, “just in case,” although it is unlikely to hear from it.

Does this make you weirdly emotional? You’re not alone. Well wishes poured in from myriad corners of the internet, and NASA’s website allows you to memorialize InSight’s short but eventful life by sending InSight a digital postcard with some of its most iconic images. Bruce Banerdt, a geophysics researcher at JPL who served as the principal investigator of the mission, called InSight a “friend and colleague” that has “earned its richly deserved retirement.”

Rest easy, InSight.

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