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Chinese fans of 'Jade Rabbit' moon rover await news of its fate

This photograph taken by the on-board camera of the lunar probe Chang’e 3 in December shows China’s first moon rover, the Jade Rabbit, as it touches the lunar surface. The rover experienced technical difficulties last weekend and shut down. 

Xinhua

This photograph taken by the on-board camera of the lunar probe Chang’e 3 in December shows China’s first moon rover, the Jade Rabbit, as it touches the lunar surface. The rover experienced technical difficulties last weekend and shut down. 

BEIJING — The Jade Rabbit did not go quietly into that long lunar night.

Instead, China's troubled robotic moon rover — given voice by a government news agency — melodramatically pondered the meaning of its perhaps-fleeting existence, measured its contribution to humanity and, finally, said goodbye.

The six-wheeled, solar-powered rover experienced technical difficulties last weekend just as it was set to go to "sleep" for the lunar night, which lasts about 14 Earth days. The rover shut down, its status unclear.

The Jade Rabbit's fans in China sent Lunar New Year greetings to the robot Friday, wishing it a speedy recovery from the malfunction it reported.

"Chinese people have been worried about the Jade Rabbit," wrote a microblogger with the username Yang Huiyan. "Hope the new year will bring good luck to him."

The official Xinhua News Agency carried what it described as a diary entry that the rover "wrote" before it shut down.

Despite being usually staid in their coverage of national events, Chinese state media tend to put a folksy touch on certain stories that help drum up national pride. State news outlets are especially fond of giving cutesy personalities to nonhuman actors playing key roles in propaganda efforts, whether they are pandas returning from zoos abroad or, in the Jade Rabbit's case, the stars of its military-backed space program.

In the Xinhua diary entry, the Jade Rabbit took on the tone of a heroic adventurer who has encountered an obstacle that might prove insurmountable and who is trying to put on a brave face as it pens what might be its final farewell.

"If this journey must come to an early end, I am not afraid," said the rover. "Whether or not the repairs are successful, I believe even my malfunctions will provide my masters with valuable information and experience."

The Jade Rabbit began operating in December after the first soft landing on the moon by a space probe, Chang'e 3, in 37 years. The moon lander is named after Chang'e, a mythical goddess of the moon, and the rover after Yutu, or "Jade Rabbit" in English, the goddess' pet.

The rover was designed to roam the lunar surface for three months while surveying for natural resources and sending back data. Then it ran into problems.

The personification of the rover has been a hit with the Chinese public. Parts of the Xinhua report were quoted by an unofficial Chinese microblog account written with the Jade Rabbit's voice, and the blog was flooded with tens of thousands of sympathetic comments.

As for the rover's fate, a report Thursday by the state-run Science and Technology Daily newspaper said that would be clear only at the end of the lunar night. Calls to the space program rang unanswered Friday, a public holiday.

Chinese fans of 'Jade Rabbit' moon rover await news of its fate 01/31/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 31, 2014 10:45pm]
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