China’s troubled Jade Rabbit appears to have come back to life after earlier reports the lunar rover had died on the surface of the Moon.
The Jade Rabbit, or Yutu in Chinese, was deployed on the Moon’s surface on December 15 in a key step forward in Beijing’s ambitious military-run space program.
The English-language China News Service first reported news of the rover’s demise, issuing a brief report saying the it “could not be restored to full function” after running into mechanical problems last month.
The report, titled “Loss of lunar rover”, was posted on Wednesday (local time) and said internet users were mourning the loss of the Jade Rabbit.
But the official Xinhua news agency now says a spokesman for the lunar program has confirmed the rover has come “back to life”.
“It came back to life! At least it is alive and so it is possible we could save it,” Xinhua quoted Pei Zhaoyu as saying on a verified account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
The news agency quoted the spokesman as saying concerns were raised that the vehicle would not survive the bitter cold of the lunar night.
“The Jade Rabbit went into sleep under an abnormal status,” he said, according to Xinhua.
“We initially worried that it might not be able to bear the extremely low temperatures during the lunar night.”
Widely respected astronomy blogger Emily Lakdawalla had also posted an article yesterday signalling the rover showed signs of awakening.
She said a downlink signal from the country’s first moon rover was detected overnight by UHF Satcom, a website devoted to the amateur monitoring of radio signals from deep space.
Ms Lakdawalla, a senior editor with the Planetary Society, also cited an earlier Xinhua report which quoted a Chang’e 3 mission core member.
Ms Lakdawalla’s translation of the quote reads: “The situation of the little rabbit is improving, with a little indication of awakening, wait a while more.”
The Jade Rabbit is a huge source of pride in China – only the third country to complete a lunar rover mission after the United States and the former Soviet Union.
The December landing was a key step forward in 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 silver rover experienced a “mechanical control abnormality” in late January due to “the complicated lunar surface environment”, according to Xinhua.
The Jade Rabbit rover had sent back its first pictures from the moon, and officials lauded the first lunar soft landing in nearly four decades as a step forward for “mankind as a whole”.
“Exploration of outer space is an unremitting pursuit of mankind,” China’s space agency, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND), said after the rover was deployed on the moon.
The mission reflects “the new glory of China to scale the peaks in world science and technology areas,” it said, adding it was committed to exploring and using space “for peaceful purposes”.
The lunar mission, which came a decade after China first sent an astronaut into space, is seen as a symbol of the country’s rising global stature and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party’s success in reversing the fortunes of the once-impoverished nation.
The potential to extract the Moon’s resources has been touted as a key reason behind Beijing’s space program, with the moon believed to hold uranium, titanium, and other mineral resources, as well as offering the possibility of solar power generation.