China’s Yutu, Jade Rabbit, lunar rover could see its once-promising mission end following a “mechanical control abnormality.” While scientists are working to fix the glitch, many fear the mission could end in failure, a rare setback for China’s space program.
State-run Xinhua news agency reported on the mechanical glitch that halted the Jade Rabbit on Saturday. Citing the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, SASTIND, the lunar rover was scheduled to enter hibernation mode to “sleep” through the lunar night, which can last for two weeks or more with temperatures reaching -180 degrees Celsius (-292 degrees Fahrenheit). Jade Rabbit runs on solar power, collected from panels, while using a small radioactive power supply to keep its sensors and scientific equipment running, Agence France-Presse notes.
The glitch occurred prior to the Jade Rabbit lunar rover entering hibernation and was believed to be caused by the “complicated lunar surface environment” and Chang’e 3, the lunar probe, also experienced a glitch on Friday, Xinhua reports.
China’s lunar rover and probe previously entered hibernation to sleep through the lunar night in December. Jade Rabbit and Chang’e 3 were collecting data and transmitting panoramic images of the lunar surface to Earth prior to the glitch.
After people heard about the problems encountered by the lunar rover, China’s social media network Sina Weibo was soon flooded with messages of hope and encouragement, Xinhua reports. “You have done a great job Yutu. You have endured extreme hot and cold temperatures and shown us what we have never seen. Hope you get well soon, but no matter what, it is your presence that makes the planet about 390 thousand kilometers away dazzling,” wrote one Sina Weibo user.
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Another user, claiming to be that of the Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover, described the mechanical glitch in a first-person account, stating, “Some parts of my body won't listen to their commands. Now my masters are hard at work thinking of ways to fix me,” AFP reports.
China’ space agency won’t know if the Jade Rabbit lunar rover can continue its mission until after the lunar night is over. AFP reports some users believe lunar dust played a role in the glitch and that could be problematic if Jade Rabbit’s solar panels can't fold into position to protect the scientific instruments.