Yutu, which is said to translate literally to “Jade Rabbit,” is China’s unmanned rover that made headlines in December, when it achieved an historic milestone. On 14 December 2013, it became the first probe to soft-land on the Moon in nearly 40 years, earning China the distinction of being the third country to log this impressive achievement. (A soft-land is a landing that is smooth, steady, and does not result in any damage to or the destruction.)
Jade Rabbit, a six-wheeled, autonomous rover, was programmed to explore the moon, look for natural resources, and catalog geologic and other discoveries. On 17 January 2014, officials at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center announced that the lunar probe had begun long-term scientific missions, including lunar surface surveys. The Chang’e 3 mission, if successful, would mark the first time China operated a lunar probe for as long as one year.
To be successful, however, a team of fewer than 20 engineers and controllers would have to put both the Chang’e 3 lander and Yutu rover in sleep mode when the lunar night falls, and then “awaken” them at the end of the lunar night. A night on the moon spans roughly 14 Earth days, the temperature falls to -180 degrees C, and sunlight is not available to power the instruments’ solar panels. Both the lander and rover emerged from the first two-week dormant period, but they were not as lucky the second time.
At the end of last week, experts at the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) in China reported that Yutu experienced a “mechanical control abnormality” due to the “complicated lunar surface environment.”
This geek is amazed at the unmanned exploration that mankind has achieved. Now let’s get some people back up there!