February 16, 2014
The Jade Rabbit lunar rover. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
Despite a mechanical problem that seemed to have doomed the Chinese The Jade Rabbit lunar rover, new reports suggest there may be a chance for the rover to be saved.
Making the successful landing on the Moon in December, the lunar rover was the first lunar landing since 1976, making China only the third nation to send a rover to the Moon, after USA and Soviet Union. The six-wheeled Jade Rabbit is part of Chang'e-3 mission designed to gather relevant know-how for future missions like a permanent orbiting space station by 2020 and, in time, sending humans to the Moon.
The mission experienced a major setback in January when the rover faced mechanical problems and Chinese state press agency Xinhua reported that it was lost for good. This was before the solar-powered rover entered a scheduled dormancy period during the lunar night.
However, on Thursday the rover was able to receive signals and was awake, giving hope that the mission was not a failure after all. The Jade Rabbit still has mechanical problems, but there is a chance it could be saved and carry out its three-month mission.
"At first we were worried the rover could not withstand the low temperatures on the moon, because it entered its dormant state while in an abnormal state. But it is alive," said Pei Zhaoyu. He is a spokesman for the lunar probe programme. "It is still alive, so there is a chance it could be saved."
Possible cause for the problems is Moon's dust which could have made its way to sensitive parts of the rover.
The Moon is suspected to hold significant amounts of valuable elements like uranium and titanium and it would make sense for China to try to extract them in the near future. Additionally, the Moon could be a good place for gathering solar energy in large quantities.