BEIJING: China’s troubled Jade Rabbit lunar rover has survived a bitterly cold 14-day lunar night, officials said on Thursday, prompting hopes it can be repaired after suffering a malfunction last month.
The problem was a setback for Beijing’s ambitious military-run space program, which includes plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually sending a human to the moon.
“The rover stands a chance of being saved as it is still alive,” Pei Zhaoyu, spokesman for China’s lunar probe program told the official news agency Xinhua.
An earlier report by the semi-official China News Service said an attempt to restore the vehicle to full functionality on Monday had been unsuccessful.
The rover, named Yutu or Jade Rabbit after the pet of Chang’e, the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology, experienced a “mechanical control abnormality” as the lunar night fell on January 25, provoking an outpouring of sympathy from Chinese Internet users.
Scientists had been concerned it might not be able to survive the extremely low temperatures of the lunar night, when it was supposed to remain dormant, but it was now receiving signals normally, Xinhua cited Pei as saying.
“Yutu has come back to life!” he said, adding that the rover “went into sleep under an abnormal status.”
Experts were still working to establish the causes of its mechanical control abnormality, the agency reported, without giving details.
Australia-based independent space expert Morris Jones told Agence France-Presse that the problem involved a solar panel on the rover failing to close.
“This allowed heat to escape from the rover in the cold lunar night. The cold has probably damaged some parts of the rover permanently, but it seems that some parts are still working,” he said.
Beijing sees the space program as a symbol of China’s rising global stature and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party’s success in reversing the fortunes of the once-impoverished nation.