Yutu Awakes Again, But Mechanical Problem Remains Unresolved

Yutu Awakes Again, But Mechanical Problem Remains Unresolved

China’s Yutu lunar rover awakened from its third period of dormancy on Friday, but its mechanical problems remain unresolved.  It was designed to survive for three of these lunar day/night cycles so in many respects can be considered a success, even if not a full success.

China’s official Xinhua news agency published a charming article about the rover yesterday, quoting from many messages on China’s version of Twitter (Sina Weibo) that humanize the robot.   Chinese space officials say they do not know who operates the “Lunar Rover Yutu” account, but the author tweets as though it is Yutu’s own voice.  Xinhua reported that a message was posted on the day Yutu woke up, March 14, which is Pi Day (named after the mathematical constant pi, which begins 3.14) — humorously asking “Any carrot pi for me?”   The carrot reference is because Yutu is named after a pet rabbit that accompanies China’s mythological goddess of the Moon, Chang’e.

Yutu was designed to operate during the 14 days of lunar sunlight and be dormant (sleep) for the 14 days of bitterly cold lunar night.

The article had little hard news in it, though, and adds to the confusion about what exactly is wrong with Yutu.  It is a rover that carries scientific equipment intended to test different sites on the lunar surface as it treks across the Moon.  Just before it entered this third period of dormancy, Chinese officials revealed the nature of the rover’s previously reported mechanical failure was a malfunctioning control circuit in its driving unit.  That meant the rover cannot rove.  Its instruments apparently are functioning normally, however.

This most recent Xinhua article, though, says that “the ailing rover will continue to work, roaming on the moon while commanded by the mission control center.”  That implies that it is, in fact, still able to move.

In a presentation in Washington, DC to the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board on March 3, Wu Ji of the Chinese Academy of Science’s National Space Science Center said Yutu is “useless” without the ability to move since its purpose is to test lunar regolith in different locations.

Meanwhile, the Chinese media have not said very much about the Chang’e-3 lander that delivered Yutu to the surface and has its own scientific instruments.  It is a stationary lander that was designed to work for one year.   Chang’e-3 and Yutu landed on the Moon on December 14, 2013 Eastern Standard Time.   They are China’s first spacecraft designed to make a survivable landing on the Moon. Future lunar probes are planned, including a sample return mission (Chang’e 5)  in 2017.

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