The crescent moon’s return to tonight’s sky is a guarantee, but the Chinese moon rover’s status remains uncertain. The Yutu rover began its third two-week long lunar night still crippled from a mechanical problem in late January when it attempted to store equipment in the box of the rover body in preparation for the previous night. Temperatures at the landing site can reach -292 F (-180 C). Bad news for sensitive electronics.
Although a signal from Yutu was received on Feb. 12, and the state-run Xinhua News Service tweeted a photo of the lander taken by the rover Feb. 22, we know little else.
“Mechanical issues remain unresolved,” according to Xinhua News. China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), noted that Yutu only carried out fixed point observations during its third, two-week-long lunar day with its panorama camera, infrared imager and radar through at least Feb. 22. In other words, it appears to be functioning but not moving.
There’s much speculation that moon dust may have gummed up the works, but who knows. While Chinese officials have touted the successes of the moon missions, they’ve been very secretive about the status of the rover ever since the problems occurred.
Pity that the Chinese couldn’t be more open about the mission. If they only understood that we get it. Problems happen all the time on space missions. Remember the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999 due to a mixup using English inches instead of metric? Embarrassing, yes, but the more information that’s shared, the more support the agency will receive, and the better chance problems will be resolved in future missions. Someone out there may even have a work-around to Yutu’s dilemma, but we may never know.