The NASA Mars InSight Lander is one of those figures that does more by 9 a.m. than most do all week, and has crammed numerous discoveries into its four-year lifespan, far outpacing its initial expiration date of two Earth years.
But spring break in space had to wind down eventually, as NASA announced that InSight is likely expected to fall silent soon. Regional dust storms and power decline are the main culprits. That would take any of us down.
“The spacecraft’s power generation continues to decline as windblown dust on its solar panels thickens, so the team has taken steps to continue as long as possible with what power remains,” NASA wrote in a statement. “The end is expected to come in the next few weeks.”
Like Spock, InSight will never be gone as long as we remember it, which is rather easy considering the trove of valuable data and accomplishments under its belt.
The little guy detected more than 1,300 marsquakes, listened (probably nervously) as meteors impacted the surface, and has given NASA tremendous insight into Mars’ interior layers, helping illuminate how rocky worlds like Earth, Mars, and the Moon form.
“Finally, we can see Mars as a planet with layers, with different thicknesses, compositions,” said Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “We’re starting to really tease out the details. Now it’s not just this enigma; it’s actually a living, breathing planet.”
All of that is a hell of a lot more than any of us would manage if we were dropped off on Mars.
There will be no dramatic Bruce Willis-led heroic missions to try and save the lander, and NASA says the mission will be declared over when InSight misses two consecutive communication sessions. It’s like a nonresponse to texts after a date–one miss could be an accident, two means it’s over.
But there is a slight glimmer of hope from that pesky, trouble-making wind:
“While a mission-saving event — a strong gust of wind, say, that cleans the panels off — isn’t out of the question, it is considered unlikely,” NASA wrote.
So you’re telling me there’s a chance.
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