Just halfway through its three-month lunar mission, China's Jade Rabbit has experienced a "mechanical control abnormality." Experts now fear the lunar rover may be permanently lost.
According to the Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, the problem was the result of a "complicated surface environment."
Lutz Richter, a planetary rover specialist with Kayser-Threde, a German aerospace company that works with NASA and the European Space Agency, says the Chinese are likely preparing for the loss of their rover.
"This is speculation, but I think there's a problem with the electrical motors that close the solar panels," he's quoted in the South China Morning Post.
Which is really bad news. If the solar panels can't close, some of Jade Rabbit's internal electrical components would freeze during the lunar night and become irrevocably damaged. The problem started just as the rover was entering into its second dormancy period of the mission — the start of the lunar night, which lasts about two weeks. During the day, the temperature on the lunar surface reach 100 degrees Celsius, but at night it plunges to -180C.
Jade Rabbit woke up from its extended night-time slumber two weeks ago without incident.
Richter speculates that it might be dust blocking the mechanism, saying that extreme temperatures could also damage its hinges and motors.
The breakdown has generated considerable interest amongst the Chinese. As the BBC reports:
"People not only hailed the authority's openness to the accident, but also expressed concern," it said.
On Sina Weibo, China's largest microblog provider, users began tagging their posts with the hash tag "#hang in there Jade Rabbit".
Users also circulated comic strips depicting a rabbit on the Moon, and rabbit-themed pictures, while expressing their support for the rover.
User Jessica_S_AC_USK wrote: "I want to cry. Go Jade Rabbit, even if we fail this time, we still have next time - our Chinese Jade Rabbit's goal is the sea of stars! We will not give up easily."
Referring to a Chinese folktale about a rabbit on the Moon, another microblog user wrote: "Whatever happens, we must thank Jade Rabbit. When our generation tells stories to our children, we can confidently say: 'There really is a Jade Rabbit on the moon!'"
[ scmp | image: xinhua]