NASA’s Insight spacecraft is retiring after 4 years on Mars

Four years after it reached the surface of the Red Planet, the US Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) officially announced the retirement of the Mars spacecraft (InSight), the first robotic probe designed specifically to study the deep interiors of a distant world.

Mission control officials at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located near Los Angeles, determined the mission ended after two successive attempts to restore radio contact with the probe failed, evidence that Insight’s solar-powered batteries were dead.

And NASA expected in late October that the spacecraft would reach the end of its operational life within weeks due to the heavy and increasing accumulations of dust on its solar panels, which deprives its batteries of the ability to recharge.

NASA said JPL engineers will continue to listen in anticipation of a signal again from the probe, but hearing anything from Insight again is unlikely. The three-legged probe last contacted Earth on December 15.

InSight landed on Mars in late November 2018 equipped with instruments designed to detect rumbles of earthquakes on the planet that had not been measured before anywhere but Earth. Its mandate was later extended from two years to four.

From its location on a vast, relatively flat plain just north of the planet’s equator, InSight has helped scientists gain a new understanding of the internal structure of Mars.

The researchers said its data revealed the thickness of the planet’s outer crust, the size and density of its inner core and the structure of the mantle that lies in between.

One of Insight’s major accomplishments was proving that the Red Planet is seismically active, with more than 1,300 earthquakes recorded. It also measured the seismic waves resulting from the collision of meteorites.

“The seismic data from this Discovery Program mission alone provides tremendous insight not only about Mars but also about other rocky bodies, including Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuken, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Another robotic visitor to the Red Planet is NASA’s science rover Perseverance, which was sent later than InSight. And that rover continues to prepare a collection of Martian mineral samples for future analysis on Earth.

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