China’s lunar rover may have just experienced a catastrophic failure – world holds breath (update)

// January 27th, 2014 // Astronomy and Space News


China's Jade Rabbit lunar rover

China’s Jade Rabbit lunar rover is a little over a month into its three-month lunar exploration mission. Today the Chinese State Administration of Space, Technology, and Industry for National Defense has said the rover has experience a “mechanical control abnormality” that was the result of a “complicated lunar surface environment”.  In other words, it’s stuck with many interpreting the statement as the Chinese preparing for the loss of their rover.

Chinese state media published the following imaginary first-person log book from the craft:

“The bad news is, I was supposed to go to sleep this morning, but before I went to sleep, my masters found some mechanical control abnormalities. Some parts of my body won’t listen to their commands. Now my masters are hard at work thinking of ways to fix me… Even so, I know that it’s possible I won’t be able to endure this night […] Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humans.”

Speculation is that the outage is a problem with the electrical motors that close the solar panels which means the electrical components, including the motors, would freeze during the lunar night resulting in catastrophic damage to Jade Rabbit.  This assumption was made in part because the timing of the Chinese announcement comes just as Jade Rabbit is about to enter its second dormancy period of the mission.  In moon-speak, lunar nights last about two weeks with temperatures dropping to -180 degrees Celsius.

Jade Rabbit landed on the moon on December 14 and began exploring a region known as the Mare Imbrium or Sea of Showers.  It was the first soft landing on the moon by a space probe in 37 years.

Update 2/13/14


Chinese officials said today that the moon rover has managed to awaken from its slumber though experts were still trying to figure out what was wrong with it.  They revealed the rover was now receiving signals normally, but it’s not out of the woods yet as it’s still troubled by that pesky “mechanical control abnormality”.

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