Over a year after it landed on the moon for a three-month mission, the Chinese moon rover, Yutu, is functioning but stationary. The rover, named “Jade Rabbit” after the pet of the Chinese Moon goddess Chang’e, landed on the lunar surface in December 2013. It is the first spacecraft to softland on the moon since 1976.
Yutu is part of China’s Chang’e Moon Mission. It makes China only the third country to have landed a spacecraft on the moon. The Chinese Lunar Exploration Mission (CLEP) includes lunar orbiters, landers, rovers and sample return craft. The ultimate goal may be a manned lunar landing by 2025-2030.
Currently, Yutu is functioning but not mobile. It was designed to “sleep” through the lunar nights (about 14 days long) since there would not be enough sunlight to power its solar panels. Due to a mechanical malfunction, Yutu’s solar panels have not been able to close to protect the rover from the low temperatures of the lunar night, and it has been difficult to “reawaken” the craft. Most scientific instruments and communications appear to be functioning, however. The rover was designed to survey lunar topography and geology, the Sun-Earth-Moon space environment, and to conduct astronomical observations.
Interestingly, Chang’e and Yutu were the topic of conversation between Mission Control in Houston and the Apollo 11 crew in 1969, shortly before the first manned moon landing.
“095:17:28 Evans: Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, is one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-O has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.”
“095:18:15 Collins: Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.”