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China secretive about ultimate fate of Yutu lunar rover

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Space.com noted in a February 27, 2014 story that the Chang’e 3 lunar lander and the Yutu rover have entered the third period of lunar night in which the two craft are expected to shut down and “sleep” until the next day cycle allows the sun to power their solar cells. However concerns are being expressed about Chinese secretiveness concerning the health of the Yutu, which has thought to have taken damage during the previous lunar night due to an unspecified mechanical failure.

Paul Spudis, a planetary geologists who writes extensively on space policy, suggests that Chinese silence concerning its lunar mission may mean that the scientific usefulness of the Yutu has come to an end.

“Yutu has led a famous existence in cyberspace, with numerous ‘tweets’ to the world. A public eager to anthropomorphize machines has responded in kind, including offering several admonitions to the rover to ‘pay attention to his wake-up calls.’ All this rhetorical cuteness hides the fact that China has been less than forthcoming about this mission, as they are about all of their space missions. We hear only what they want us to hear. Successes (of which they have had many) are widely trumpeted with blasts of publicity, while difficulties and failures are buried in silence. It’s true that a space program run by the military (in the case of China, the People’s Liberation Army) will tend toward such an ethic. But the WALL-E-like image promoted by China early in the mission is not the image conveyed by their current posture with the world press.”

Spudis suggests that this attitude, similar to that of the old Soviet Union and, to some extent, that of India, will undermine attempts to bring China in as a cooperative partner in joint space projects. Total transparency is necessary for any country to be an effective space partner. But, likely due to national pride, China has not quite managed to achieve that quality. That means that China is likely to remain a rival rather than a partner for other countries’ space projects.

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