RIP: China lunar rover...or not

Headlines that China's troubled lunar rover, named Yutu or Jade Rabbit, has breathed its last are apparently premature, after reports surface it has regained normal signal reception but still faces serious malfunction.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor


Is it dead or is it not? Headlines that China's troubled lunar rover has breathed its last are apparently premature, after reports surface it has resurrected but still faces serious malfunction. 

Yutu, or translated as Jade Rabbit, was launched successfully on December 15, marking the first such landing on the moon since 1976 and the bearer of much pride for Chinese. Millions across the country have been following its progress via an unverified Weibo user, called Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover, who assumes the rover's persona when it posts. There are suggestions the microblogging account is maintained by space enthusiasts who are monitoring the system's trip to the moon.

Named after the pet of the moon goddess in Chinese mythology, Yutu faced a "mechanical control abnormality" in late-January just before it was to begin a scheduled dormancy period, on January 25, spanning 14 days when there would be no sunlight to power its solar panel. The malfunction sparked fears about the demise of the probe, amid concerns it would not survive the low temperatures. 

Reports on Thursday surfaced about its demise, with China News Service reporting on Wednesday that Yutu could not be restored to full function on Monday as expected. It added the probe was unable to function since suffering a "serious mechanical problem" in January. 

Headlines emerged, declaring Yutu "dead", but a Xinhua report later revealed the resurrection of the space rover. 

"Yutu has come back to life," Pei Zhaoyu, spokesperson for the Chinese space programme, told the state-run news agency Thursday, noting the probe had regained its normal signal reception function. He added that experts were still attempting to identify the cause of the malfunction.

"Yutu went into sleep under an abnormal status," Pei said, adding there were initial concerns it might not be able to survive the low temperatures during the lunar night. "The rover stands a chance of being saved now that it is still alive."

Hopes the system was still alive and kicking surfaced when the Weibo user, silent since January, made its first update: "Hi, anybody there?" It triggered over 60,000 reposts and 40,000 comments within two hours, according to Xinhua. 

"We are all here," replied one Weibo user, while another wrote: "Hold on there, the whole country's got your back."

Yutu's lunar landing was deemed a significant milestone in Beijing's military-run space initiative, which includes plans for an orbiting station by 2020 as well as to send a human to the moon, and deemed a symbol of China's role in development advanced technology. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping had watched the live broadcast of the landing, and the central government heralded the landing as a "new glory" of the Chinese people in aerospace.

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