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InSight mission ended

Location of InSight's largest quakes
The white patches mark the locations on Mars of the largest quakes
detected by InSight

NASA today announced that it has officially ended the mission of the InSight lander on Mars.

Mission controllers at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California were unable to contact the lander after two consecutive attempts, leading them to conclude the spacecraft’s solar-powered batteries have run out of energy – a state engineers refer to as “dead bus.”

NASA had previously decided to declare the mission over if the lander missed two communication attempts. The agency will continue to listen for a signal from the lander, just in case, but hearing from it at this point is considered unlikely. The last time InSight communicated with Earth was Dec. 15.

Other than the success of InSight’s seismometer, this project was mostly a failure. Its launch was delayed two years, from 2016 to 2018, because of problems with the original French seismometer, forcing JPL to take over. Then its German-made mole digger failed to drill into the Martian surface, causing the failure of the lander’s second instrument, a heat sensor designed to measure the interior temperature of Mars.

Fortunately the seismometer worked, or otherwise it would have been a total loss. That data has told us much about Mars and its interior.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Lee S

    “Other than the success of InSight’s seismometer, this project was mostly a failure. “…
    A little bit harsh.. the mission had 2 projects.. 1 failed, 1 was massively successful. That makes it 50% by my maths.

    I am as peeved as anyone about the failure of the mole probe ( it always sounded a bit dodgy to me…. Even if it worked as planned, what happens when it hits a big rock?) , But the seismology results have changed our understanding of the Mars interior.
    Call it what you like, but “failure” wouldn’t be a word I would use.

  • Lee S: Your point is well taken, but I also note that the mission was two years late, and significantly overbudget. Also, had NASA not taken the seismometer away from the French and give it to JPL, it would have failed as well.

    The success here should not blind us to the overall poor management and engineering of this mission.

  • Two big take aways:

    1) (We should have already known it, but an array of) seismographs placed around the planet are enormously important towards figuring out what’s going on within Mars; and

    2) Important instruments placed on the planet should be provided with RTG (nuclear) power – which cannot be blocked out by a little dust settling on the solar panels – much like Curiosity, Perseverence, and Viking.

  • Lee S

    Points also taken Bob…. Although, of course it was late and over budget…. It was a NASA mission ;-)

    Regarding solar Vs nuclear power… Plutonium is expensive and problematic, and Mars receives enough sunlight to make solar practical IF the panels can be kept clean. It seems to me that some kind of windshield wiper brush or compressed air blower shouldn’t be too hard to implement, and surly without adding a huge amount of mass to any mission. Why we haven’t seen such a device yet on any Mars mission puzzles me…

  • Lee S: It was a NASA project except that its two main instruments were being built by the French and the Germans. The German instrument failed to work on Mars, and the French instrument failed on Earth, causing a two year delay, budget overruns, and a takeover by JPL.

    I am certainly not a booster for NASA, but in this case the problems mostly stemmed from Europe, combined with lax management at NASA (but only in the beginning).

  • Lee S

    @ Bob, now I put my mind to it, I think I can recall the motion detector being pulled quite late in the missions development. Because of course it was behind schedule and over budget… ( And didn’t work :-) , that’s ESA.

    Twas not my intention to pick out NASA especially, you guys have the best robotic space program a planet could hope for! But I wonder what and where the last mission that came to fruition early and under budget was?

    ( It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall during China’s space budget discussions… I can only presume that inevitable budget overruns occur…)

  • Lee S: No need to strain your memory. I provide links above to the past stories about InSight’s problematic development.

  • Richard M

    Discovery program missions are actually pretty decent, on the whole, in keeping under budget. (Perhaps this is too much of a relative standard I am applying. But NASA has on the whole gotten better at this than they used to be, at least on these small to medium class missions which have little political kibitzing.)

    I think the problem was the outsourcing of the seismometer to the less experienced CNES, which I think was a combination of…CNES was offering it cheaper, and international involvement as good politics.

    The mole failed, it seems, because they had the bad luck to land on a spot where the surface soil was particularly bad. I think (based admittedly on limited information) that there was concern in some quarters that they ought to have estimated such an eventuality as being higher probability than they did….they rolled the dice, and they didn’t get the numbers. So, maybe there is room for criticism here, but it sounds like luck was part of it, too.

    It should be noted that there were other instruments on InSight besides these two: RISE, an x-band radio experiment (intended for precise measurements of planetary rotation to better understand the interior of Mars), and TWINS, which measures local wind and termperature. These ain’t nearly so important as SEIS and the mole, but they’not without significant value, and they did work: it’s the one site on Mars where we have such a long record of local climate data.

    I wouldn’t call InSight the greatest Discovery success, but I think it turned out to be reasonably successful, even in spite of the delay and the cost overrun. On my list of NASA outrages, I think this rates low on my list; but others’ mileage may vary.

  • Richard M

    2) Important instruments placed on the planet should be provided with RTG (nuclear) power – which cannot be blocked out by a little dust settling on the solar panels – much like Curiosity, Perseverence, and Viking.

    Well, that would have more than doubled mission cost, and….NASA just had (and still has) a severely limited stock of RTG’s. So, they’re trying to use them only when they feel they absolutely must, until the stockpile is built back up.

    Dragonfly is the next mission up that will use one, and it’s because there’s just no way they can get sufficient power via solar on the surface of Titan.

  • Richard M: You make a good point that I had forgotten. When it comes to its planetary missions, NASA in general has been doing a reasonably good job in the past two decades getting them built on time and on budget (more or less). NASA’s failures have been connected to its manned program (specifically SLS and Orion), and its astronomy program (specifically Webb and Roman and all the big telescopes proposed in the past two decades).

    As you say, the problem with InSight had to do with farming it out to the Europeans, whose expertise in planetary work is weak. They showed it here.

  • Rich B

    As a retired airline pilot with over 30 years of experience, it is hard for me to understand why NASA does not believe in redundancy. Every aircraft “critical” system I flew had at least one, and sometimes two backup power sources. The effectiveness of the rotor blades on Ingenuity indicate to me that a relatively “cheap” vs nuclear power fix for the loss of solar panel power would have been a fan for each solar panel. If the onboard computer system indicated a loss of 10% of the available power due to dust on the panels the fans could have been activated to remove the dust and restore full power. I guess I’m old and out of touch, but it seems to me that the NASA engineers could have completely avoided this situation using 1920’s technology…??

  • Edward

    Rich B,
    Having worked on instruments that flew on NASA missions, I am aware that there are backups for many of the systems. NASA lists the single point failures and decides whether they should stand or be supported by a backup. However, each backup system reduces the weight available for science instruments. It is all compromise and tradeoffs.

    These missions have limited expected lifespans, but they do seem to routinely exceed these timelines. Generally, the landers and rovers are not built to last much longer and the extra time is considered a bonus. To put a solar cell cleaner on the craft would cost weight that the scientists want to use for instruments and experiments. Think of it as doubling the amount of fuel on an airplane (rather than only fuel for an extra 45 minutes plus an amount to reach an alternate airport) in order to assure that it reaches its destination; there would be less available weight left over to fly the payload. When everyone agrees to the mission lifespan, they are grateful for extensions rather than upset that the mission had to eventually come to an end.

    Longer missions, such as Curiosity or Perseverance, tend to be designed with other power sources so that longevity is assured. They, too do not have a backup power source, such as solar arrays.

    When creating the financial budget for the mission, they don’t really budget for longer missions and to extend a mission must request them in order to receive additional budget for additional data collection, such as ground controllers and Deep Space Network time to collect the data, and for additional scientist salaries to write the additional papers explaining the data.

    It is a shame that we have lost our only seismometer on Mars, but it would have been lost eventually anyway and lasted longer than planned, meaning hat it is a gain, not a loss.

    Perhaps one of these years someone will design a solar array cleaner that is lightweight and effective so that these longer missions can use solar arrays rather than the other power sources. Perhaps one of these years we will have plenty of alternate power sources that we can include them on all missions. With Starship, we may be able to afford greater weight budgets due to the vastly reduced cost of launch, heavier missions with more instruments due to the vastly greater capacity of this launcher, and more of these missions due to the vastly greater availability of launches. But today, as in the past, we have limited resources for space exploration.

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