A photograph showing InSight's solar panels covered in dust. NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA is Preparing to Say Farewell to its InSight Lander

Windblown dust on the spacecraft's solar panels continues to reduce power generation. The lander is expected to last only a few more weeks.


One of the most important missions on Mars, operating to this day, is NASA’s Insight mission. Not a rover but a lander, InSight has helped scientists understand what the interior of Mars is like. The mission has helped us understand what the climate on Mars is like. InSight has helped us understand that Mars is geologically alive. The lander has registered thousands of Marsquakes and has allowed us to refine our understanding of what Mars was like in the past.

InSight’s next steps

Nevertheless, the moment is near when NASA’s Mars InSight lander will cease operations, ending its history-making mission. Windblown dust on the spacecraft’s solar panels continues to reduce power generation, so the team is taking steps to continue using what power remains. A few weeks from now, the mission will come to an end. Even though the tightly knit 25- to 30-member operation team – a relatively small team in comparison to other Mars missions – continues to maximize the effectiveness of InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport), steps are already being taken to wind the mission down. InSight’s final step is to store and make accessible its data trove for researchers around the world. In addition to revealing details about Mars’ interior layers, its liquid core, and the surprisingly variable magnetic field remnants beneath the surface, the lander data have provided details about Mars’ weather and quakes.



Since the InSight lander touched down in November 2018, more than 1,300 marsquakes have been detected by the seismometer provided by France’s Center National d’Études Spatiales (CNES). It was even able to record quakes caused by meteoroid impacts. This insight into Mars’ interior, as well as an understanding of how all rocky worlds, including Earth and the Moon, form, can be gained by studying the seismic waves from those quakes as they travel through the planet. According to Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the principal investigator of the mission, “we can now visualize Mars as having layers with varying thicknesses and compositions.” He continues, “We are starting to gain a better understanding of the layering on Mars.” Mars is no longer just an enigma; it is a living, breathing planet.”

The seismometer data will join the only extraterrestrial seismic data that NASA has, collected from the Apollo lunar missions. Additionally, the data will be stored in the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology archives. It houses “every terrestrial seismic network data location.” “Now, we also have one on Mars, ” said Sue Smrekar, InSight’s deputy principal investigator. According to Smrekar, the data will continue to yield discoveries for decades to come.

Dusty Mars

As early as this summer, the mission turned off all other science instruments of InSight to keep the seismometer running due to insufficient power. Mission scientists even disabled the fault protection system. This would shut down the seismometer automatically if the power generation on the lander drops too low. As a result, Banerdt said, the generating capacity was less than 20% of its original level. To save power, the team recently turned off the seismometer altogether after a regional dust storm added to the lander’s dust-covered solar panels. After the storm ended, the seismometer began collecting data again, but the mission expects the lander only to have power for a few more weeks.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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