Zombie Chinese lunar rover rises from the dead


In this image taken by the on-board camera of the lunar probe Chang'e-3 and made off the screen of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, China's first moon rover 'Yutu' - or Jade Rabbit - is on the lunar surface in the area known as Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows) Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013.  (Xinhua news agency via AP)

The first signs of trouble with China's first lunar rover appeared just as the craft was preparing to hibernate through a two-week lunar winter in late January. On Wednesday, a Chinese state media outlet released a report saying the rover, known as Jade Rabbit or Yutu, "could not be restored to full function on Monday as expected, and netizens mourned it on Weibo, China's Twitter-like service." But like a zombie hungry for space brains, the rover appears to be rising from the dead.

"Yutu has come back to life!" spokesperson Pei Zhaoyu told a Chinese state-run news agency.

Program managers detected an abnormality with the system as it was entering a hibernation mode for the lunar night. During the extended night period, temperatures can drop to minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Miriam Kramer at Space.com. Some feared that sensitive instruments may have been damaged.

The rover isn't out of the space woods yet: While normal signal reception capabilities have reportedly been restored, the cause of the initial issues remains unclear -- as does whether they can be fixed. But Pei says Jade Rabbit "stands a chance of being saved now that it is still alive."

The rover was taken into space by China's Chang'e 3 spacecraft last December -- the first object to make a soft landing on the moon since a Soviet Union mission in 1976. Chang'e hasn't encountered the same issues as Jade Rabbit and is expected to function normally on Moon for the next year.

In fact, according to CNN, a blog on China's state-run Xinhua news site in the voice of Jade Rabbit asked its devoted online audience to comfort Chang'e if the rover didn't make it through the most recent cold lunar night.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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