A Rabbit in Trouble
February 4, 2014
In mid-December the Chinese successfully landed the Chang’e 3 (‘Moon Goddess’) spacecraft on the Moon, becoming the first lunar soft landing since 1976. Its 140kg lunar rover passenger is the first operational rover on the Moon for over 40 years. The rover is named Yutu, which means ‘Jade Rabbit’. The name was selected via an online poll, and refers to the myth of the Moon Goddess and her pet rabbit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jade_rabbit)
The rover had been operating well until problems arose just before it began its second ‘night’ on 26 January. With only solar panels for power, Yutu is put into hibernation during the dark, freezing fortnight while in the Sun’s shadow. The Chang’e 3 lander is not affected to the same degree because it has a nuclear heater unit.
China announced that Yutu had “a mechanical control abnormality” which occurred due to the “complicated lunar surface environment”. This has been interpreted as indicating that irregular command responses caused Yutu to not be configured properly for the night period. We all hope the Chinese scientists and engineers can fix the problems when Yutu sees the Sun again.