Is China’s Jade Rabbit moon rover in trouble?


China’s Jade Rabbit moon rover experienced a “mechanical control abnormality” over the weekend, according to the official Xinhua news agency, just as it was set to go to “sleep” for the long lunar night.

“Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humans.” Those were the words in a “first-person” account from the rover’s perspective that was published in Chinese state media after the robot experienced some troubling technical difficulties.

Officials with China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense said scientists are now organizing an overhaul, according to state-run CCTV.

China’s Chang’e 3 spacecraft made headlines last month after becoming the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the lunar surface in nearly four decades. The last one before that was the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission, sent to collect samples in 1976.

The Chinese mission sent a lander and a rover named Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, to an area called the Bay of Rainbows. The Chang’e 3 mission is named after a Chinese moon goddess, and the rover is named after her long-eared companion.

The rover and lander are one step in China’s plans to explore space. Chang’e 3 follows two other lunar explorers, Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2, and plans are already in progress for a Chang’e 5 mission, which could potentially return lunar samples back to Earth.

Since landing, the lander and rover have been studying the lunar surface and conducting science experiments. The rover has conducted an analysis of the lunar soil, and the lander has used its optical telescope and ultraviolet camera to observe the Earth’s plasmasphere.

But just before going into its second lunar night, which lasts two weeks, the rover began experiencing problems. It doesn’t help that during lunar night, the temperature can drop to minus-292 and it’s too dark to power the solar-powered spacecraft.

“If this journey is to end prematurely, I’m not afraid,” according to a translation of the first-person account. “Whether or not I can be fixed, I know that my failure can provide my masters with a lot of valuable information and experience.”

 

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