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The Jade Rabbit Moon Rover May Still Be Alive

The Jade Rabbit Moon Rover May Still Be Alive

China's lunar mission is shaping up to be a riveting soap opera. You might recall that two weeks ago, the Jade Rabbit rover live blogged its own death using its Weibo account, which is operated by space enthusiasts who have been closely following its journey.
The multi-post swan song was a genuine emotional roller-coaster. The rover, the first mobile explorer to soft-land on the moon since 1976, assured its fans that it wasn't sad or fearful. It then asked them to console its mother, the Chang'e-3 lander, which had successfully entered hibernation to endure the 14-day lunar night. “If I can't be fixed, everyone please comfort her,” said the Jade Rabbit, in a particularly heartbreaking post.
The Chang'e-3's photo of its baby taking its first steps. Image: Stuart Rankin.

Yesterday, the news that the Jade Rabbit had not survived to see its third lunar day rest flooded the Internet. The China News Service reported that “China's first lunar rover could not be restored to full function on Monday as expected, and netizens mourned it on Weibo, China's Twitter-like service.” It was a sad confirmation that as the rabbit had feared, it would never see another Earthrise.
Then, yesterday evening, there was an epic plot twist. “Hi, anyone there?” posted the rover. The floodgates were opened, with thousands of people responding to the update. Jade Rabbit, you better quit playing games with our hearts.
It turns out, the bell tolled a little prematurely. UHF-Satcom, a website that monitors radio signals from deep space, picked up an unexpected signal from the Jade Rabbit. They immediately tweeted the news, calling it “the signal we've all been waiting for, direct downlink from the Yutu rover!… a pretty good signal!”
Soon after, the Xinhua state-run news agency confirmed with Pei Zhaoyu, the spokesman for the Chinese lunar program, that the Jade Rabbit had successfully rebooted its communications equipment. “It came back to life! At least it is alive and so it is possible we could save it,” said Zhaoyu. Rejoice! Artificial life finds a way. 
While nobody can deny the exciting high drama of this whole debacle, its not clear if the rover will make a full rebound. No details on the “mechanical control abnormality,” as it was dubbed by the Xinhua state news, have been released. The only reason the Chinese media gave for the malfunction was that the “complicated lunar surface environment” led to the malfunction. It truly does not get more vague that that.
The location of the lander and rover in the Sinus Iridium. Image: NASA

Overseas experts suggested that, based on the available information, the solar panel that powers the rover in the lunar day may have had trouble powering down in preparation for the second lunar night. The sensitive instruments protected by the panel would be exposed to the frigid temperatures, which can plunge to minus 170 degrees. Clearly, the Jade Rabbit's radio is up and running again, but there's no news on whether its payload of equipment, which includes soil-sampling and photographic instruments, have survived with it.
But for the moment: who cares? The Jade Rabbit is the world's sweetheart right now, and we're just glad it has lived to see another lunar day. 
TOPICS: spaceChinajade rabbitRoversmoon roversmachines

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