Waiting for Word on Yutu's Fate – UPDATE

Waiting for Word on Yutu's Fate – UPDATE

UPDATE, February 12, 9:30 am ET:   China’s official news agency, Xinhua, still has not posted any news about Yutu on its English language website (http://www.news.cn/english/).   However, @jeff_foust and @cosmic_penguin separately tweeted links this morning to two articles that tell conflicting stories about Yutu’s health.  The first, from ECNS.cn, states in English that Yutu “could not be restored to full function” and “has been unable to function” since January 25.  The other, from sina.com.cn, is in Chinese.  A Google translation is far from smooth, but holds out hope.  Here’s an extract:  “Chang E III core staff just … told reporters:Little Rabbit situation is getting better, a little longer wake signs, …’ Bunny, come on!”  @cosmic_penguin, who is based in Hong Kong (and presumably doesn’t need Google to translate the text), tweeted that the article says Yutu is “showing ‘signs of activity'” with the last three words in quotes as though they are from the article, but Google translate didn’t use them.

ORIGINAL STORY, February 10, 9:50 pm ET:  China has made no announcement about the fate of its Yutu lunar rover.  A malfunction occurred as the rover entered the 14-day lunar “night” on January 25.  Sunlight has returned to Yutu’s location, but the Chinese media have not said one way or the other if the rover woke up.

China’s Chang’e-3 lander and its Yutu rover arrived at the Moon on December 14, 2013 Eastern Standard Time (EST).  Chang’e is the name of China’s mythological goddess of the Moon and Yutu is her companion Jade Rabbit.

The rover was designed to operate through three day/night periods, but as it entered the second lunar night on January 25, Chinese media reported that a mechanical malfunction took place jeopardizing the rover’s future operations.  Western press reports said the problem likely was with the sequence for stowing the rover’s mast (with its antenna and camera) and solar panels for the cold lunar nights.  By folding down the mast into the interior and using one of the two solar panels as a cover, the interior of the rover would be protected from the cold (the second solar panel remains in position to catch the rising Sun).   Without the protection, the rover would essentially freeze to death.

The Planetary Society’s unmannedspaceflight.com blog is one forum for discussion about the rover’s fate.   A message posted there yesterday cites an article from China’s Weibo news service as saying that sunrise arrived at Yutu’s site (Rainbow Bay), but offered only hope that Yutu would resume operations.   A Google translation of the Weibo text is as follows:  “Rainbow Moon Bay yesterday ushered in Sunrise, after today (February 10) 15:00 we will hopefully get back to the news rabbit, rabbit numbers confirm, whether safe or unable to move.”   Converting the time zones, 15:00 February 10 was 2:00 am EST today.

It simply may be too early for Chinese engineers to know if the rover is still operational.  Chang’e-3 and Yutu are China’s first spacecraft to make a survivable landing on the Moon, so even if Yutu does not operate for the expected period of time, the achievement remains a feather in China’s cap.

China’s Yutu lunar rover on the surface of the Moon as seen from a camera on the Chang’e-3 lander.  Photo Credit:  tweet from @XHNews December 22, 2013.


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