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China’s Yutu Moon Rover – Survivor of the Lunar Night

February 13th, 2014

China's Yutu rover on the Moon, taken from lander. The robot suffered a malfunction, but has survived the cold lunar night. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

The word from Beijing is that China’s Yutu (Jade Rabbit) rover is indeed awake, apparently surviving some two weeks of low temperature trauma.

China’s Yutu lunar robot first touched the Moon’s surface on Dec. 15, 2013, unleashed several hours after China’s lunar probe Chang’e-3 soft-landed on the Moon on Dec. 14.

Both spacecraft have been successful in relaying scientific data.

The Yutu rover, however, suffered a “mechanical control abnormality” prior to entering its second period of lunar night – a day/night cycle that lasts some 14 days. Concern grew that the rover would, quite literally, freeze to death.

“The rover stands a chance of being saved now that it is still alive,” said Pei Zhaoyu, a spokesman for the Chang’e 3 mission, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Still unknown is the state of the Chang’e 3 lander, although early reports indicated it too survived the brutal lunar night.

Good message from the Moon

“Yesterday night, the Jade Rabbit lunar rover has sent us a good message from the Moon,” explained Yong-Chun Zheng, a scientist at the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Yong-Chun said that, in the last lunar day at the landing site, the rover ran into trouble in its ability to move about on the surface. “The control structure of the rover can’t function as designed. The rabbit [went] into sleep without protection,” he said.

Thanks to the efforts of engineers back on Earth, Yutu has awakened. “The instruments on the rover stood up to the challenge of the very low temperature in the lunar night. The rover can receive command [s] from the ground station. We have also received data from the rover,” Yong-Chun said.

Except for some sensitive components, most of the functions of the rover have been recovered, Yong-Chun told this reporter.

“The lunar and planetary missions are not easy for any country. They always give us joy mingled with surprise,” with the anticipation now that the Yutu rover will make new discoveries on the moon, Yong-Chun concluded.

By Leonard David