This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.
There’s an inevitable sense of sorrow when a bold space mission comes to an end, but the NASA InSight team can take comfort in the lander’s impressive science work during its four years on Mars. On Tuesday, NASA announced the end for InSight will likely come within the next few weeks.
Dust-covered solar panels, a recent regional dust storm and dwindling power are all contributing to the impending farewell. The InSight team shut off instruments to deal with the power drain, while prioritizing the work of the seismometer, which senses marsquakes. “We’re pushing it to the very end,” said InSight team member Liz Barrett.
InSight has deciphered some of the secrets of Mars’ interior. It’s recorded a monster marsquake, listened to meteoroid impacts and given scientists a better understanding of how rocky planets like Earth and Mars form. That’s a lot of accomplishments for a short life in the harsh conditions of another world.
“Finally, we can see Mars as a planet with layers, with different thicknesses, compositions,” said InSight principal investigator Bruce Banerdt. “We’re starting to really tease out the details. Now it’s not just this enigma. It’s actually a living, breathing planet.”
InSight is still in contact with Earth via spacecraft that orbit Mars, but the day will soon come when it falls silent. The mission will be declared over when the lander misses two consecutive communications sessions. “There will be no heroic measures to re-establish contact with InSight,” said NASA. “While a mission-saving event — a strong gust of wind, say, that cleans the panels off — isn’t out of the question, it is considered unlikely.”
InSight will be missed, but its data will continue to power scientific studies of Mars for years to come.