Yutu Rover’s Fate Uncertain As Evening Lunar Crescent Returns

Look toward the west this evening about half hour after sunset to see a beautiful 1 1/2 day old crescent moon. Stellarium

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.

The Jade Rabbit rover, Yutu in Chinese, ventures across the lunar soil or regolith in this image made by the Chang’e 3 lander on Dec. 13, 2013. Credit: CNSA/China News

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.

Photo of the Chang’e 3 lander taken by Yutu and tweeted by China’s Xinhua News Service Saturday Feb. 22, 2014 shortly before the onset of lunar night #3. The next lunar day for the mission begins March 10-11. Credit: CNSA/Xinhua News

“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.

2 Responses

  1. Lotus flowers slip beneath the surface of the dark maria
    Under the weight of the hopping Jade Rabbit
    Yutu is fading away from the headlines
    Not unlike the supernovae in M82.

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