China’s first attempt at a lunar lander did make it to the Moon, but it appears that the harsh realities of life on the Moon will be too much for the little Chinese rover, who has encountered some mechanical problems and will likely freeze to death on the surface of the Moon.
The Chinese lander Chang’e-3 was launched toward the Moon from China in December, making it to the Moon’s rocky surface on December 14 and becoming the first lander in the past 37 years to make a soft landing on the Moon. The rover included in that lander, called Yutu, a legendary rabbit who lives on the Moon and is the pet of the Moon goddess Chang’e, has not been as lucky as its name would seem to indicate.
The little rover is experiencing trouble over its mechanical controls and Chinese scientists are frantically trying to repair it before the passage of the lunar night, which began on January 25 and will last for about 14 Earth days. One day on the Moon lasts for about 28 Earth days, with a nearly equal amount of day and night. The Chang’e-3 lander and rover already passed one of these night periods in hibernation, which shuts down delicate instruments that might be damaged by the extreme cold that occurs during the Moon’s long nights. Temperatures drop to a minus 280 degrees F because the moon has no atmosphere to keep in any heat.
Yutu was expected to survive for at least three months, taking samples and exploring the surface of the moon, but it has already said its goodnight to humanity, believing that it might easily freeze to death on the surface of the Moon. The government-run Xinhua news published a report written in the voice of the Chinese rover, telling loyal fans that it is aware it may not survive the lunar night and asked the public to comfort its lander, Chang’e-3, when it emerges from hibernation in February.
Many Chinese watched the progress of the little rover, and sent out messages to it on social media, telling the rabbit rover how great it has been and wishing it well.
In its first and only day on the moon, which lasted 14 Earth days, Yutu stretched its legs and checked its instruments, conducting tests using its Ground Penetrating Radar and collecting information with its particle X-ray device, which has allowed Chinese scientists to identify chemical elements on the Moon. Its master and lander Chang’e-3 was also busy, taking pictures of Earthrise from the Moon and images of various constellations with its optical telescope and extreme ultraviolet camera. The stationary lander is expected to last on the Moon for at least a year.
China is only the third country to successfully land a mission on the Moon, following the former Soviet Union as well as the United States. And while the Chinese rover Yutu may have survived its first cold night, it is looking like the second will cause the little bot to freeze to death in the harsh conditions on the Moon.
By Marisa Corley