NASA Retires InSight Mars Lander Mission After More Than 4 Years of Researches

After more than four years of unique science on Mars, NASA’s InSight mission has ended.

After two tries, mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California could not get in touch with the lander. This led them to believe that the spacecraft’s solar-powered batteries had run out of power, a situation called “dead bus” by engineers.

NASA had already decided that the mission would be over if the lander missed two attempts to talk to Earth. The agency will keep listening for a signal from the lander, just in case, but it is not likely that they will hear from it at this point. Dec. 15 was the last time InSight talked to Earth.

NASA Retires InSight Mars

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said, “I watched the launch and landing of this mission. It’s always sad to say goodbye to a spacecraft, but the fascinating science that InSight did is a reason to celebrate.” “Just the seismic data from this Discovery Program mission gives us a lot of information about Mars and Earth and other rocky planets.”

NASA Retires InSight Mars
NASA Retires InSight Mars

InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport, was sent to Mars to learn more about its deep interior. The data from the lander has given us information about Mars’ interior layers, the surprising strength of the magnetic dynamo’s remnants under the surface, the weather in this part of Mars, and a lot of earthquakes.

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Its sensitive seismometer and daily monitoring by the French space agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the Marsquake Service run by ETH Zurich found 1,319 marsquakes. These included quakes caused by meteoroid impacts, the biggest of which uncovered boulder-sized chunks of ice at the end of last year.

Such impacts help scientists figure out how old the surface of the planet is, and seismometer data gives them a way to study the crust, mantle, and core of the planet.

“With InSight, seismology was the focus of a mission beyond Earth for the first time since the Apollo missions, when seismometers were brought to the Moon by astronauts,” said Philippe Lognonné, the principal investigator of InSight’s seismometer from the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris. “Our science team can be proud of all we’ve learned along the way and how far we’ve come.”

The seismometer was the last science instrument that stayed on as dust built up on the lander’s solar panels. This happened before NASA extended the mission earlier this year.

“InSight has lived up to its name and then some. As a scientist who has spent a career studying Mars, it’s exciting to see what the lander has done. “This mission was a success thanks to a team of people from all over the world,” said Laurie Leshin, who is in charge of JPL, which runs the mission. “Yes, it’s sad to say goodbye, but InSight’s legacy will live on, educating and inspiring people.”

InSight was no different from other missions to Mars because it had problems. The lander had a self-hammering spike called “the mole” that was meant to dig 16 feet (5 meters) down and leave behind a tether with sensors that would measure the heat inside the planet. This would help scientists figure out how much energy was left over from Mars’ formation.

The German Aerospace Center

The mole was made to work in loose, sandy soil, but it couldn’t get a grip on the unexpectedly clumpy soil around InSight. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) made the instrument, which buried its 16-inch (40-centimeter) probe just below the surface. Along the way, it gathered important information about Martian soil’s physical and thermal properties. This will help in the future when people or robots go on missions to dig underground.

Engineers at JPL and DLR devised creative ways to use the lander’s robotic arm to bury the mole as much as possible. The main purpose of the arm was to place science instruments on the surface of Mars. However, the arm and its small scoop also helped clean dust off of InSight’s solar panels when the spacecraft’s power started to go down. Contrary to what you might think, the mission found that they could sprinkle dirt from the scoop onto the panels when it was windy. The falling granules would then gently sweep dust off the panels as they fell.

“For the past four years, we’ve thought of InSight as our friend and colleague on Mars, so it’s hard to say goodbye,” said Bruce Banerdt of JPL, who is in charge of the mission. “But it has worked hard and deserves to be put away.”

The Science Mission Directorate at NASA gives InSight to JPL to run. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program. The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, is in charge of running the program. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver made the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and helps run the spacecraft for the mission.

The InSight mission is being helped by several European partners, such as France’s CNES and Germany’s DLR. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument was made by CNES and given to NASA. The lead researcher was at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). IPGP, the German Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), Imperial College London and Oxford University in the UK, and JPL all made significant contributions to SEIS. The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) was made by DLR, with help from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. The temperature and wind sensors came from the Centro de Astrobiologa (CAB) in Spain.

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