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| Human World | Space on Feb 13, 2014

Chinese moon rover Yutu is awake

After hibernating in the cold lunar night, the Chinese moon rover Yutu seemed dead. Then it showed signs of life. Now it’s awake! Will it be able to finish its mission?

It was widely reported on Wednesday that China’s first moon rover – called Yutu or, in English, Jade Rabbit – failed to connect with mission controllers in Beijing following its second hibernation in the long, cold lunar night. Then yesterday afternoon, another report suggested signs of life from Yutu. Today (February 13, 2014), a spokesman with China’s lunar probe program has said that Yutu is able to pick up signals, although it is still experiencing a mechanical control abnormality, according to an English-language report from news.xinhuanet.com. Pei Zhaoyu, the spokesman, said:

… the rover stands a chance of being saved as it is still alive.

Tweet via @elakdawalla on Twitter, who has done a great job keeping us informed about Yutu.  Thanks, Emily!

Tweet via @elakdawalla on Twitter, who has done a great job informing everyone about Yutu. Thanks, Emily!

One of the first to pick up a signal from Yutu yesterday was an amateur group that monitors radio signals from deep space (uhf-satcom.com). It reported that a downlink signal from the Yutu rover had been detected, indicating that Yutu is back.

Chinese media first reported Yutu’s malfunction on January 27, as night was falling in the rover’s location, when Yutu was about halfway through its three-month mission to study the moon. At that time, China’s state-run Xinhua news released a report in the voice of the rover itself, saying:

Although I should’ve gone to bed this morning, my masters discovered something abnormal with my mechanical control system. 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.

Yutu on the moon

The delicate electronics of China’s Yutu rover have had difficulty surviving the freezing cold of the lunar night.

China's Chang'e 3 lander set down in Sinus Iridum, the Bay of Rainbows.   The arrow here shows the location of the Soviet Lunokhod 1 rover, LROC WAC mosaic is 360 km wide (224 miles wide).  Image via Wikimedia Commons.

China’s Chang’e 3 lander – which carried Yutu to the lunar surface – set down in the beautiful Sinus Iridum, the lunar Bay of Rainbows, on December 14, 2013. Arrow shows location of Soviet Lunokhod 1 rover. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

So that its delicate electronics could survive the extreme cold of a lunar night, the rover needed to hibernate, or shut down most of its systems, when nighttime came to the portion of the moon on which the rover sat. If a mechanical problem kept it from hibernating properly, then Yutu could “freeze to death.”

The Chang’e 3 lunar lander – which carried Yutu to the moon and successfully landed on December 14, 2014 and released Yutu to the lunar surface – is apparently still in contact with mission control.

China’s Chang’e 3 mission is the first soft landing on the moon since 1976. China is only the third country in the world to land on the moon, after the U.S. and former Soviet Union.

Whatever happens … hats off to Yutu and its builders!

Earth as seen by Chang'e on the moon on December 25, 2013.  Chinese Academy of Science photo via the Planetary Society.

Earth as seen by Chang’e mission on the moon on December 25, 2013. Chinese Academy of Science photo via the Planetary Society. Best images so far from Chang’e mission here.

Bottom line: China’s Yutu rover on the moon is apparently not dead. Its controllers in Beijing are now reporting a signal.