After four years, the reddish Martian dust that coated the surface of the Insight lander won, as NASA engineers had expected all along. The grit built up on the lander’s solar panels, which in turn reduced the amount of power that the robot could generate for itself.
On Dec. 15, 2022, NASA communicated with Insight for the last time. After two more attempts to reach the robot with no response, NASA declared that the Insight Mars Lander Mission — a tremendous success for science and humanity — had ended.
Speaking in the voice of the lander on Dec. 19, 2022, NASA posted a final message on Twitter, along with its dusty last images taken on the surface of Mars: “My power’s really low, so this may be the last image I can send. Don’t worry about me, though: my time here has been both productive and serene. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will — but I’ll be signing off here soon. Thanks for staying with me.”
Insight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, landed on Mars in November of 2018 and over the course of its four year mission, contributed enormously to our understanding of the red planet’s interior, including the mantle and crust. Though its retirement was well-deserved, more than a few tears were shed as it joined its decommissioned predecessors, including Curiosity and the legendary Opportunity, which stretched a 90-day mission into 15 years and signed off with, “my battery is low and it is getting dark.”
Mars and all its mysteries have captivated humanity for hundreds of years, from ancient astronomers to modern authors who spin tales about human settlements on its surface and interior. It is one of our most enduring icons — a god of war, the mythological father of ancient Rome, a symbol of virility and the setting for countless sci-fi movies and children’s cartoons.
Perhaps no one summarized man’s fascination with Mars better than Carl Sagan, in a message he recorded for future Mars explorers just a few months before his death: “Whatever the reason you’re on Mars is, I’m glad you’re there. And I wish I was with you.”
Image by WikiImages