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‘Goodnight Earth. Goodnight humanity’: China’s Jade Rabbit rover tweets its own death

The six-wheeled lunar rover is likely to shut down after experiencing "abnormalities" - but China's state media have given Jade Rabbit a voice

James Vincent
Monday 03 February 2014 12:02 GMT
This screen grab taken from a CCTV footage shows a photo of the Jade Rabbit moon rover taken by the Chang'e-3 probe lander on December 15, 2013.
This screen grab taken from a CCTV footage shows a photo of the Jade Rabbit moon rover taken by the Chang'e-3 probe lander on December 15, 2013. (AFP/Getty Images)

China’s Jade Rabbit rover has run into difficulties, with engineers from the China Academy of Space Technology reporting that “abnormalities in the lunar vehicle” have arisen from “the complicated environment on the moon’s surface”.

Despite the vagueness of this technological explanation, Jade Rabbit - named after a mythological rabbit that lives on the Moon - has managed to write its own, sentimental farewell through China’s state-run news agency Xinhua:

“Although I should’ve gone to bed this morning, my masters discovered something abnormal with my mechanical control system,” lamented the rover in a diary piece that was also tweeted by a fan-run Webio account (a Twitter clone).

“My masters are staying up all night working for a solution. I heard their eyes are looking more like my red rabbit eyes. Nevertheless, I’m aware that I might not survive this lunar night.”

The lunar night in question is the 14-day period in which the Moon is in shadow. During this time temperatures plunge to -170 degrees Celsius (-274 degrees Fahrenheit) and Jade Rabbit – which is powered by solar panels – must enter into a hibernation state to preserve its core systems.

A detailed model of the Jade Rabbit lunar rover. AFP/Peter Parks (AFP/PETER PARKS)

For unknown reasons, this transition has not been possible and it’s likely that once the lunar night has passed the six-wheeled rover will not recover. Thankfully, Jade Rabbit is viewing its impending doom with healthy stoicism:

"If this journey must come to an early end, I am not afraid. Whether or not the repairs are successful, I believe even my malfunctions will provide my masters with valuable information and experience. Even so, I know I may not make it through this lunar night.”

This sort of personification is common for Chinese media, with state news outlets regularly bestowing heroic characteristics to non-human actors in key propaganda events. AP notes that this sort of “folksy touch” is used to “drum up national pride”.

This fusing together of national myth with state enterprise has been an element of the Jade Rabbit mission ever since its name was first decided by popular poll, and the sentimental tone has proved popular with the Chinese public.

The rover’s unofficial Weibo account has been flooded with messages of sympathy and admiration. One user named Amaniandlove writes: “You have done a great job Yutu. You have endured extreme hot and cold temperatures and shown us what we have never seen. Hope you get well soon, but no matter what, it is your presence that makes the planet about 390,000 kilometres away dazzling.”

One of the first pictures of the lunar landscape as captured by the Jade Rabbit rover. Xinhua/Photoshot (Xinhua/Photoshot.)

Jade Rabbit’s shutdown may seem anticlimactic when compared to the likes of Nasa’s Opportunity mission (the Mars rover coincidentally celebrated 10 years in operation last week) but it is still a substantial achievement. It was the first soft landing on the Moon in 40 years and, as Jade Rabbit itself reminded readers:

“About half of the past 130 explorations ended in success; the rest ended in failure. This is space exploration; the danger comes with its beauty. I am but a tiny dot in the vast picture of mankind’s adventure in space."

The farewell sounds similar to Carl Sagan's 'Pale Blue Dot', but the final message seemed directly calibrated to tug at the heartstrings:

“I’ve said a lot today, yet still feel like it’s not enough," writes Jade Rabbit. I’ll tell everyone a secret. Actually, I’m not feeling especially sad. Just like any other hero, I’ve only encountered a little problem while on my own adventure.

“Good night, planet Earth. Good night, humanity.”

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