Made in China: Lunar Mission Fails, Moon Rover Encounters Mechanical Problems, ‘Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humanity’

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | January 28, 2014 5:25 PM EST

"Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humanity." Barely six weeks above the soil of the moon, China's moon rover Jade Rabbit encountered a mechanical problem that could signal the end of the country's ambitious space exploration program.

REUTERS
China's first moon rover, Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, moves onto the lunar surface in this still image taken from video provided by China Central Television (CCTV) December 15, 2013. China landed an unmanned spacecraft on the moon on Saturday, state media reported, in the first such "soft-landing" since 1976, joining the United States and the former Soviet Union in managing to accomplish such a feat. The Chang'e 3, a probe named after a lunar goddess in traditional Chinese mythology, is carrying the solar-powered Yutu buggy, which will dig and conduct geological surveys. REUTERS/CCTV via Reuters TV

The six-wheeled Yutu vehicle or "Jade Rabbit" got hit by a mechanical fault that killed its ability to put itself into hibernation.

In a report authored by China's state-run Xinhua news and written in the voice of the rover itself, Yutu said it knows it has encountered a problem that could imperil it.

"Although I should've gone to bed this morning, my masters discovered something abnormal with my mechanical control system," the Xinhua report said, under the guise of Jade Rabbit's voice. "My masters are staying up all night working for a solution. I heard their eyes are looking more like my red rabbit eyes."

"Nevertheless, I'm aware that I might not survive this lunar night," it added.

Because Jade Rabbit can't hibernate, it won't be able to protect its instruments from the below-freezing temperatures of the lunar night. In a lunar night, which lasts half of one Earth month or 14 days, the moon's surface temperature can drop to as much as minus 180 degree Celsius.

Jade Rabbit needs to go on forced hibernation to preserve its delicate electronics in order to make it through the chilling cold. But with the mechanical problem, it could freeze to death.

"This is space exploration; the danger comes with its beauty," Jade Rabbit said as it appeased the people in its report.

This will be Jade Rabbit's second lunar night on the moon. The first occurred from Christmas until the second week of January. Both it and the Chang'e lander survived the freezing temperatures.

For this second lunar night, the Chang'e-3 lander had successfully entered into hibernation on Friday. It doesn't have an idea that its' partner is in danger.

"[Chang'e] doesn't know about my problems yet," the Jade Rabbit said. "If I can't be fixed, everyone please comfort her."

The little robot Jade Rabbit surely had enmeshed itself into the lives of the netizens in China, with most offering it well-wishes.

"You have done a great job, Yutu. You have endured extreme hot and cold temperatures and shown us what we have never seen," Xinhua quoted one microblogger as saying.

"This is too heavy a burden. If the rabbit can not stand again, maybe we should let it have a rest," another wrote.

If for anything, Jade Rabbit accepts its forthcoming demise.

"The sun has fallen, and the temperature is dropping so quickly... to tell you all a secret, I don't feel that sad. I was just in my own adventure story - and like every hero, I encountered a small problem."

"Goodnight, Earth," it said. "Goodnight, humanity."

Until then, Chinese scientists will have to wait for the end of the second lunar night to see if Jade Rabbit made it through.

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(Photo: REUTERS / )
China's first moon rover, Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, moves onto the lunar surface in this still image taken from video provided by China Central Television (CCTV) December 15, 2013. China landed an unmanned spacecraft on the moon on Saturday, state media reported, in the first such "soft-landing" since 1976, joining the United States and the former Soviet Union in managing to accomplish such a feat. The Chang'e 3, a probe named after a lunar goddess in traditional Chinese mythology, is carrying the solar-powered Yutu buggy, which will dig and conduct geological surveys. REUTERS/CCTV via Reuters TV
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