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NASA's InSight Mars lander awakens from 'safe mode' after Red Planet dust storm

An artist's depiction of NASA's InSight lander at work on Mars, with the dome of the seismometer in the foreground.
(Image credit: NASA)

A NASA spacecraft has safely emerged from a precautionary "safe mode" after an intense Martian dust storm.

The solar-powered InSight lander, which is designed to study the interior of Mars, entered safe mode to save power on Jan. 7; it went back to "more normal operations" by Jan. 19, the mission said in a Twitter update.

"Skies seem to be clearing overhead, so I'm out of safe mode and back to more normal operations," the tweet stated. "I'll wait to start doing more science until I know how much power I can expect to generate once the storm settles."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the mission, had expressed optimism earlier in the month that InSight would leave safe mode in about a week. While that prediction was just about right, reduced power will be a big factor to InSight's science production in the coming months.

Related: Photos of NASA's InSight mission to probe the Red Planet's core

InSight, which landed on the Red Planet in 2018, is already working on reduced power due to normal buildup of dust on the two solar powers. While engineers managed to take off the dust on one panel in 2021 using the lander's robotic arm, NASA has said such a procedure becomes more difficult as power diminishes.

InSight removed the dust by drizzling a trickle of sand on the solar panel. While other NASA missions such as Opportunity and its twin rover Spirit have been lucky enough to get windy "cleanups" of dust on the solar panels, InSight hasn't been close enough to a dust devil to get that same benefit.

Last year, NASA warned that reduced power on the mission could end InSight activities sometime in 2022. The planet reached its greatest orbital distance from the sun last year, and seasonal cycles of dust activity were also deemed a threat.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.