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China's Yutu lunar rover survives lunar night after all

Chang'e 3/Yutu landing site
Chang'e 3/Yutu landing siteNASA

It looks like that China’s Yutu lunar rover is alive after all, according to a February 13, 2014 report from Xinhuanet. Chinese flight controllers have reestablished contact with the space probe that landed on the lunar surface in December, 2013. They are now attempting to ascertain the cause of the mechanical fault that placed Yutu at risk during the just completed 14 day lunar night.

Yutu and the Chang’e 3 lander have to go into a dormant mode during the lunar night as both relies on solar panels for power. Yutu is designed to fold up to protect its delicate electronics. It had failed to do so, some suspect because of contamination by lunar dust. Since temperatures on the lunar surface plunge to 180 degrees below zero, it was feared that the rover was lost.

The Chinese have not, as of this writing, ascertained what if any damage the Yutu rover sustained during the lunar night or whether it is still a usable scientific instrument. But the development is doubtless welcome to Chinese space enthusiasts, who harbor an understandable pride at China’s being the third country to land something on the lunar surface.

China plans a number of follow up space probes, including a sample return mission, leading up to a crewed landing sometime in the 2020s.