China’s ‘Jade Rabbit’ rover ends Moon mission

Chinese officials give first-person account for rover.

China’s first lunar rover will be meeting its untimely demise due to malfunctioning mechanical controls. The rover, named Jade Rabbit, may not wake up from a scheduled dormant period during the upcoming lunar night, official Chinese news sources warn.

The rover’s touchdown on the moon on Dec. 14, 2013 made China the third country in history to land an object on the moon, following missions by the former Soviet Union and the United States.

Lunar nights, which are a fourteen-day period in which the Moon is in shadow, have temperatures that plunge to -170 degrees Celsius. The Jade Rabbit is powered by solar panels, so it must enter into a hibernation state in order to preserves its core systems.

For unknown reasons, this transition has not been possible, and it is unlikely that the rover will not recover once the lunar night has passed. If the rover fails to ‘wake up’ after two weeks, China may decide to scrap the three-month mission altogether.

Jade Rabbit, however, is taking its impending doom in stride. Chinese authorities have taken a bizarre approach to discussing the rover’s malfunctions. Xinhua News Agency has published a ‘first-person account’ that gave the robot a personality, and prepared the Chinese public for the possibility of the rover’s demise.

“If this journey must come to an early end, I am not afraid. Whether or not the repairs are successful, I believe even my malfunctions will provide my masters with valuable information and experience. Even so, I know I may not make it through this lunar night,” reads an excerpt.

Personification of this sort is common for Chinese media. State news outlets are known for assigning heroic characteristics to non-human items in propaganda events in order to ‘drum up national pride’.

The report even mentions the spacecraft that transported the rover to the moon, Chang’e, and asked readers to ‘take care’ of the ship in the rover’s absence.

“If I really cannot be fixed, when the time comes, I hope everyone will remember to help me comfort her.”

Jade Rabbit’s unofficial Weibo account, China’s version of Twitter, has been overflowing with messages of sympathy. One user, named Amaniandlove, wrote, “You have done a great job Yutu. You have endured extreme hot and cold temperatures and show [sic] us what we have never seen. Hope you get well soon, but no matter what, it is your presence that makes [the Moon] about 390,000 kilometres away dazzling.”

Approximately half of all lunar missions have failed. In comparison, more than half of all missions to Mars have also fallen short. Despite this setback, Chinese officials plan to undergo other ambitious projects. The nation’s first orbital space lab, Tiangong-1, has been launched, with plans to launch Tiangong-2 in 2015. Also, a full-scale space station is scheduled for launch by 2020.

“I’ve said a lot today, yet still feel like it’s not enough,” Jade Rabbit writes in its concluding paragraph. “I’ll tell everyone a secret. Actually, I’m not feeling especially sad. Just like any other hero, I’ve only encountered a little problem while on my own adventure.

“Good night, planet Earth. Good night, humanity.”

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