Jade Rabbit, or Yutu, China's first and much-celebrated lunar rover, suffered a fatal mechanical malfunction last month and is no longer working, according to a sad and short report from state media:
China's first lunar rover, Yutu, could not be restored to full function on Monday as expected, and netizens mourned it on Weibo, China's Twitter-like service. Yutu experienced mechanical problems on Jan 25 and has been unable to function since then.
The rover's untimely illness last month was met with the blessings of "tens of thousands," state media reported:
"You have done a great job Yutu. You have endured extreme hot and cold temperatures and shown us what we have never seen. Hope you get well soon, but no matter what, it is your presence that makes the planet about 390 thousand kilometers away dazzling," wrote "Amaniandlove." Zhang Yian, a Beijing-based writer, said Yutu has shouldered more than just the hope of China's space industry but also the dreams of the Chinese people. "This is too heavy a burden. If the rabbit can not stand again, maybe we should let it have a rest."
At least one Twitter user offered an artistic homage to the Jade Rabbit.
Alas, so many kind words (and failed efforts to repair the rover) could not help Jade Rabbit. New Scientist explains that Jade Rabbit failed to hibernate when the second lunar night — which lasts two weeks and falls to temperatures as low as -180° C — began:
When the second lunar night rolled around on 25 January the lander went in to hibernation but Yutu appeared to have failed. It is impossible to communicate with the vehicles during lunar night, so mission operators had to wait until the new lunar day this Monday to confirm whether Yutu would respond.
According to New Scientist, it is likely that the rover was mechanically unable to protect itself and use radiation to warm its more sensitive instruments, or that the rover was unable to gather the solar energy it needs to keep power. It is also possible that sharp moon dust, which has been known to break through astronaut space suits, damaged the rover.
Jade Rabbit, which was the first to make a successful soft landing since 1976, arrived on the moon in mid-December and was hailed as a success by China. Yutu, you will be missed.