China's Imperiled Jade Rabbit Moon Rover: 'Goodnight, Humanity'

By: Nick Viviani
By: Nick Viviani
The diminutive lunar explorer, known as Jade Rabbit, or "Yutu" in Chinese, was about halfway through a three-month mission to study the moon

The Jade Rabbit, seen in this artist's impression, is the first wheeled vehicle on the Moon since 1976. Credit: CNSA

(CNN) -- China's brand new moon rover is already saying farewell.

The diminutive lunar explorer, known as Jade Rabbit, or "Yutu" in Chinese, was about halfway through a three-month mission to study the moon's crust when it suffered a potentially crippling breakdown, said state media.

The report, authored by China's state-run Xinhua news, was written in the voice of the rover itself.

"Although I should've gone to bed this morning, my masters discovered something abnormal with my mechanical control system," said the Xinhua report, in the voice of the Jade Rabbit. "My masters are staying up all night working for a solution. I heard their eyes are looking more like my red rabbit eyes."

"Nevertheless, I'm aware that I might not survive this lunar night," it added.

During a lunar night, which lasts about 14 Earth days, the moon's surface temperature can plunge to minus-180 Celsius. To make it through the cold, the lunar rover must "hibernate" to preserve its delicate electronics.

If a mechanical problem keeps it from hibernating properly, then the Rabbit could freeze to death.

Named after a mythical rabbit who lives on the moon, Yutu was a source of national pride when it launched into space last December along with the lunar lander Chang'e-3, named after the moon goddess who kept Yutu by her side.

The successful lunar landing made China the third country in the world to perform a "soft landing" on the moon's surface.

Earlier, Yutu and Chang'e survived their first lunar night together, from Christmas until the second week of January.

The Chang'e-3 lander successfully entered a second hibernation on Friday and is expected to function normally for another year.

"[Chang'e] doesn't know about my problems yet," said the voice of Yutu in the Xinhua report. "If I can't be fixed, everyone please comfort her."

On social media, thousands of Chinese internet users sent their well-wishes to the little robot.

"You have done a great job, Yutu. You have endured extreme hot and cold temperatures and shown us what we have never seen," wrote one microblogger, as quoted by Xinhua.

Another wrote: "This is too heavy a burden. If the rabbit can not stand again, maybe we should let it have a rest."

Despite the setbacks, even the little Rabbit seemed aware of the odds it had overcome.

"Before departure, I studied the history of mankind's lunar probes. About half of the past 130 explorations ended in success; the rest ended in failure," noted the Jade Rabbit in its report.

"This is space exploration; the danger comes with its beauty. I am but a tiny dot in the vast picture of mankind's adventure in space.

"The sun has fallen, and the temperature is dropping so quickly... to tell you all a secret, I don't feel that sad. I was just in my own adventure story - and like every hero, I encountered a small problem," said the Rabbit.

"Goodnight, Earth," it said. "Goodnight, humanity."


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