Jade Rabbit lunar rover

‘It came back to life’: China’s Jade Rabbit snaps out of silence but mechanical kinks remain

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 February, 2014, 9:51am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 February, 2014, 3:26am

The Jade Rabbit lunar rover has bounced back to life but is suffering the same problems as before, state media reported on Thursday.

China National Radio quoted the country’s lunar programme spokesman Pei Zhaoyu as saying the rover showed signs of "wakefulness".

“It’s basically returned to the state it was in before it went to sleep,” Pei said. “It’s awake, but the problems are still there.”

Xinhua posted on its official Weibo account also quoting Pei as saying the lunar rover still could be saved.

“Jade Rabbit went to sleep in an abnormal state. We were worried it wouldn’t be able to endure the lunar night’s extremely low temperatures, but it’s come back to life! As long as it’s alive, there’s the possibility it can be saved.”

“Hi, anyone there?” space enthusiasts posted on Jade Rabbit’s unofficial Weibo account on Thursday, prompting thousands of responses within minutes.

In late January, the six-wheeled rover reported a “mechanical control abnormality” and was pronounced dead six weeks into its three-month mission and just before the moon entered a two-week lunar night, when temperatures drop to minus 180 degrees Celsius.

Jade Rabbit reached the moon on December 15, making China only the third country to make a soft-landing on the moon and the first since the Soviet Union mission nearly 40 years ago.

The rover has been a source of great pride for China and millions have chartered the rover’s progress and shared in its successes and misfortunes.

Deputy chief designer of Chang’e-3’s probe system Zhang Yuhua told the radio station that the rover had three main mechanical subsystems: one controlled the solar panel’s folding and unfolding function, the second controlled four mast-mounted cameras and the third controlled the front arm. But he said it was unknown where the problem occurred.

The probe is named Yutu or Jade Rabbit after the pet of Chang’e, the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology.

An unverified weibo user “Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover”, which has posted first-person accounts in the voice of the probe, made its first update since January, when it had declared: “Goodnight, earth. Goodnight, humans.”

Xinhua has said the account is “believed to belong to space enthusiasts who have been following Yutu’s journey to the moon”.

China first sent an astronaut into space a decade ago and is the third country to complete a lunar rover mission after the United States and the former Soviet Union.

The rover was tasked to carry out astronomical observations and investigate the moon's geological structure and mineral composition.

The landing was a key step forward in Beijing’s ambitious military-run space programme, which include plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually sending a human to the moon.

The projects are seen as a symbol of China’s rising global stature and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party’s success in reversing the fortunes of the once-impoverished nation.

The central government said the mission was “a milestone in the development of China’s aerospace industry under the leadership of ... Comrade Xi Jinping”.

With additional reporting from Agence France-Presse

Watch: Before it broke down, Jade Rabbit's first steps on the moon