Mars probe Insight: NASA ends mission after two unsuccessful contact attempts

Insight has persevered on Mars for more than four years collecting seismic data. The end of the mission now came abruptly, although it had been expected.

A spring selfie by Insight  (Image: NASA)

NASA’s Insight mission to Mars has ended. This was announced by the US space agency after two consecutive attempts to establish contact failed. It had previously been agreed that the mission would be declared over if this were to happen. If the worst comes to the worst, one will continue to wait for a possible signal from the lander, but it is considered unlikely that this will happen. The last successful communication with the probe was on December 15th.

Too much dust has collected on the probe’s solar panels, which is why the probe hasn’t had very much power available lately. Recently, however, it had looked as if the probe could hold out for at least a while longer, and then the communication was abruptly interrupted. The exact cause is unknown and will probably no longer be able to be determined.

NASA chief of science Thomas Zurbuchen has now said that saying goodbye to a probe is always sad. But the data collected in the mission is also causing celebration. The seismic data collected alone would have taught us a lot about Mars, but also about Earth. At the same time, those responsible remind that not everything went well on the mission: the HP³ drilling instrument supplied by the German Aerospace Center simply did not get into the unexpectedly hard ground, after two years the research team gave up at the beginning of 2021.

Insight landed on Mars in late November 2018. Since then, the probe has used a sensitive seismometer to measure waves caused by earthquakes beneath the surface. Especially from their echoes, conclusions can be drawn about the structures on which they were reflected. Unlike on Earth, marsquakes are not triggered by plate tectonics processes, which do not exist on the red planet. Instead, the tremors in the crust of the “one-plate planet” are caused by stresses on the rock, triggered by the slow shrinking of the cooling planet. Just a few days ago it became known that Insight had observed a particularly strong marsquake in May.

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