Insight First and Last Selfies

The end is near: NASA prepares to say “farewell” to the Mars InSight lander that made history

This image alternates between Insight’s first and last selfies, for comparison purposes. Using its robotic arm’s camera, NASA’s InSight lander took these selfies on December 6, 2018 – just 10 days after landing on Mars – and April 24, 2022. A thick layer of dust is visible on the lander and its solar panels in this last image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A closer look at what happens in the mission’s conclusion as the InSight spacecraft’s power supply continues to dwindle.

The end is near for

Founded in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States federal government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civil space program, as well as aeronautical and aerospace research. His view is "Discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity." Its core values ​​are "safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence and inclusion."

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>NASA’s Mars InSight lander. The day is fast approaching when the spacecraft will fall silent, ending its history-making mission to reveal secrets of the Red Planet’s interior. Since the spacecraft’s power generation continues to decline as windblown dust on its solar panels thickens, the engineering team has already taken steps to continue as long as possible with what power remains. Despite these efforts, it won’t be long now, as the end is expected to come in the next few weeks.

Although InSight’s tightknit 25-to-30-member operations team – a small group compared to other InSight First Selfie Mars

This is NASA InSight’s first full selfie on Mars. It displays the lander’s solar panels and deck. On top of the deck are its science instruments, weather sensor booms, and UHF antenna. The selfie was taken on December 6, 2018 (Sol 10). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Preserving Data

With InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), the most important of the final steps of the mission is storing its trove of data and making it accessible to researchers around the world. Already, the data from the lander has yielded details about Mars’ interior layers, its liquid core, the surprisingly variable remnants beneath the surface of its mostly extinct magnetic field, weather on this part of Mars, and lots of quake activity. More insights are sure to follow, as scientists continue to sift through the data.

InSight’s seismometer, provided by France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), has detected more than 1,300 marsquakes since the lander touched down in November 2018. The largest quake it detected measured a magnitude 5. It even recorded quakes from meteoroid impacts. Observing how the seismic waves from those quakes change as they travel through the planet offers an invaluable glimpse into Mars’ interior. Beyond that, these observations also provide a better understanding of how all rocky worlds form, including Earth and its Moon.

NASA InSight's Final Selfie

NASA’s InSight Mars lander took this final selfie on April 24, 2022, the 1,211th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The lander is covered with far more dust than it was in its first selfie, taken in December 2018, not long after landing. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Finally, we can see Mars as a planet with layers, with different thicknesses, compositions,” said Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (

The seismometer readings will join the only other set of extraterrestrial seismic data, from the Apollo lunar missions, in NASA’s Planetary Data System. They will also go into an international archive run by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, which houses “all the terrestrial seismic network data locations,” said JPL’s Sue Smrekar, InSight’s deputy principal investigator. “Now, we also have one on Mars.”

Smrekar said the data is expected to continue yielding discoveries for decades.

Rocket NASA InSight Lander Launch

The rocket that launched NASA’s InSight lander to Mars in 2018 is seen at Vandenberg Air Force Base, now called Vandenberg Space Force Base. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Charles Babir

Managing Power

Earlier this summer, the lander had so little power remaining that the mission turned off all of InSight’s other science instruments in order to keep the seismometer running. They even turned off the fault protection system that would otherwise automatically shut down the seismometer if the system detects that the lander’s power generation is dangerously low.

“We were down to less than 20% of the original generating capacity,” said Banerdt. “That means we can’t afford to run the instruments around the clock.”

Recently, after a regional dust storm added to the lander’s dust-covered solar panels, the team decided to turn off the seismometer altogether in order to save power. Now that the storm is over, the seismometer is collecting data again. However, the mission expects the lander only has enough power for a few more weeks.

Of the seismometer’s array of sensors, only the most sensitive were still operating, said Liz Barrett, who leads science and instrument operations for the team at JPL, adding, “We’re pushing it to the very end.”

Twin packaging

A quiet member of the team is ForeSight, the full-scale engineering model of InSight in JPL’s In Situ Instrument Lab. Engineers used ForeSight to practice how InSight would place scientific instruments on the Martian surface with the lander’s robotic arm, test techniques for getting the lander’s thermal probe into sticky Martian soil, and develop ways to reduce the noise picked up by the seismometer.

ForeSight will be crated and stored. “We’re going to wrap it carefully,” Banerdt said. “It’s been a great tool, a great companion for us all this mission.”

JPL Engineers ForeSight InSight Replica

In a test space at JPL, engineers practice deploying InSight’s instruments using ForeSight, a full-size replica of the lander that will be boxed once the mission is complete. Several engineers wear sunglasses to block out bright yellow lights that mimic sunlight as it appears on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/IPGP

Declare the end of the mission

When InSight misses two consecutive communication sessions with the Mars-orbiting spacecraft, which is part of the Mars Relay network, NASA will declare the mission terminated. However, this rule only applies if the cause of the missed communication is the lander itself, said network manager Roy Gladden of JPL. After that, NASA’s Deep Space Network will still be listening for a while, just in case.

However, there will be no heroic steps to restore contact with InSight. While a mission-saving event, such as a strong gust of wind clearing the panels, is not impossible, it is considered quite unlikely.

In the meantime, as long as InSight stays in touch, the team will continue to collect data. “We will continue to do scientific measurements as long as we can,” Banerdt said. “We are at the mercy of Mars. The weather on Mars is not rain and snow; the weather on Mars is dust and wind.

Learn more about the mission

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) maintains InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery program, operated by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruiser stage and lander, and is supporting spacecraft operations for the mission.

Several European partners, including the French National Center for Space Studies (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), support the InSight mission. CNES supplied the SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure) instrument to NASA, whose principal researcher is IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Important contributions to SEIS have come from the IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland;

imperial college london
Established on 8 July 1907 by Royal Charter, Imperial College London is a public research university in London with a focus on science, engineering, medicine and business. Its main campus is located in South Kensington and it has an innovation campus in White City, a research station in Silwood Park and teaching hospitals across London. Its full legal name is Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors, and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) supplied a passive laser retroreflector.

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