Jade Rabbit lunar rover catches chill


China’s troubled Jade Rabbit moon rover is still alive after more than five months on the moon but is heading for an icy death, state media reported Wednesday.

The rover launched in December can still send data back to Earth, Xinhua News Agency cited Li Benzheng, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s lunar program, as saying. But it is unable to move after its wheels broke, and solar panels for thermal insulation during freezing lunar nights have stopped working.

“With each lunar night, the functionality of Yutu is yet again weakened,” Li said, using the Chinese name for the Jade Rabbit.

The rover turns dormant and stops sending signals during the lunar night — two-week periods when the part of the moon’s surface on which it is sited rotates away from the sun and temperatures turn extremely cold.

The Jade Rabbit is named after the pet of a mythical goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology, and was deployed on the lunar surface on Dec. 15. It experienced a “mechanical control abnormality” on Jan. 25, leading to fears in China it might not recover. To the country’s relief, it started broadcasting signals again in mid-February.

China views the space program as a symbol of its rising technological advancement, as well as of the Communist Party’s success in reversing the fortunes of the once-impoverished nation.