NASA posted on Twitter a heartbreaking farewell message from the InSight lander, which went silent last week after four years spent uncovering the secrets the Red Planet holds.
The agency has now officially retired the hugely successful mission after the probe failed to respond to spacecraft in Mars orbit on two consecutive occasions.
On December 18, the probe finally stopped responding to NASA calls altogether, and its energy reserves were assumed to have been depleted beyond the point of use.
“My power is really low, so this may be the last image I can send,” NASA tweeted in response from the official mission account, as reported by NPR. “Don’t worry about me though: My time here has been productive and uneventful. If I can keep talking to my assignment team, I will – but I’ll be signing here soon. Thanks for staying with me.”
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The tweet was accompanied by the final image that InSight was able to send back to Earth. The snapshot showed that the strange red surface of Mars extends to the horizon. Also in frame was the dust-covered figure of the spacecraft’s Seismic Internal Structure Experiment (SEIS) instrument.
My power is really low, so this might be the last picture I can send. Don’t worry about me though: my time here has been productive and uneventful. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will – but I’m going to sign here soon. Thanks for staying with me. pic.twitter.com/wkYKww15kQ
– NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) December 19, 2022
Insight landed near the Martian equator at a location called Elysium Planitia back in November 2018. Its mission was to explore the interior of the Red Planet using a suite of advanced scientific instruments, measuring the thermometer of the 16-foot (5-meter) Spike, who was affectionately nicknamed “The Mole” .
However, the four years he spent on this surface of space took their toll on the probe. Over time, a thin layer of red, windblown dust covered InSight’s robotic figure, greatly reducing the amount of power generated by the twin solar panels.
This marked the beginning of the end of the mission, and InSight’s Earthbound handlers have been preparing for some time now until they lose contact with their beloved craft.
InSight’s goal was to shed light on how Mars – and other rocky planets – formed around our newborn star about 4.5 billion years ago and to look for marshes that were thought to regularly traverse Earth’s nearest neighbor.
“We’ve thought of InSight as our friend and colleague on Mars for the past four years, so it’s hard to say goodbye,” said the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Bruce Banerdt, in a NASA news release. “But she did have her well-deserved retirement.”
The time for active Mars exploration may have passed, but InSight’s legacy will live on for generations in the wealth of scientific data transmitted to Earth from the lifeless surface of Mars.
InSight has revolutionized humanity’s understanding of the Martian core, mantle and crust, revealing countless insights into the evolution of the world in part by reading the seismic waves that permeate the planet. InSight also tracked meteorites as they hit Mars, successfully recording the first earthquake on another planet.
Over the course of her career, she will detect more than 1,300 earthquakes, the most recent of which shook the surface of Mars for more than six hours and was thought to have a magnitude of 5.0. Despite the call to end the mission, NASA will continue to try to contact the lander using the Deep Space Network, hoping it will respond in some way.
But for now, all we can say is good night Insight, sleep well, and thanks for all the science.
Anthony is a freelance contributor covering science and video game news for IGN. He has more than eight years of experience covering breaking developments in multiple scientific fields and there is absolutely no time to fool you. Follow him on Twitter @BeardConGamer
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