On December 15, China’s Yutu rover landed on the lunar surface to begin a three-month-long mission. Unfortunately, a mechanical problem might have cut the mission short.
Yutu (which translates to Jade Rabbit) was preparing to hibernate for the lunar night, which lasts about 14 Earth days. During this time the rover would not have any sunlight to power its solar panels. Not only that, but the lack of sunlight also brings dangerously low temperatures, so the rover needed to fold itself up to protect its electrical components.
On Saturday, State officials announced that while Yutu was scheduled to enter hibernation, unknown mechanical problems occurred it did not go as smoothly as it should have. While scientists are still working hard to repair the problem remotely, it is likely that the freezing temperatures will damage the rover’s electronics too severely to be recovered. Currently, the only explanation offered has been that it is due to “complicated lunar surface environment” but does not specify if dust was to blame.
A series of blog entries have been issued from the perspective of an anthropomorphized Yutu, as it addresses its fans across the world. A translated excerpt reads: “The bad news is, I had to sleep this morning should begin, but before going to sleep, my body found the master control abnormal, some parts of the body do not listen to their words. Now the masters are hard to find ways to feel not sleep, I heard more and more like their eyes rabbit ...... Still, I know that there might not survive the Moonlight it. Before departure, I have had to learn together and lander human lunar history.”
And on a more heartfelt note: “Here's the sun has fallen, the temperature dropped so fast. Said today that a lot, but the overall feel is not enough. Tell you a secret, in fact, I do not feel particularly sad. I was just in their own adventure story, and all the actor, as also encountered a little problem: http://t.cn/8FfZlRG Thank you @ POCKN do this picture, reminds me, if she really can not sleep, at least I was finally able to see the complete Earthrise!”
Despite the fact that Yutu’s scientific mission was very likely cut short, it was anything but a failure. China has the third space program (following the United States and the Soviet Union) to have made a soft landing on the moon. For the time that Yutu was functional, it was able to use its mechanical arm and make observations about the lunar surface. It was an incredible first step in space exploration.
Chang’e-3, the lander that brought Yutu to the moon, went into hibernation mode without incident.