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China's moon rover breaks down, mission in jeopardy

China landed its first rover on the moon to much celebration last month, but the Jade Rabbit is now in trouble.

Jade Rabbit rover
The Jade Rabbit as seen from the moon lander's camera.

Technical malfunctions are the bane of space missions, and China's lunar rover is not immune to these mission-snagging bugaboos. Xinhua, China's official press agency, reports that a current breakdown is a "mechanical control abnormality" caused by the "complicated lunar surface environment."

The successful soft-landing of the Chang'e-3 lunar probe in the Bay of Rainbows on December 14 of last year was a celebratory event in the history of China's space program. The rover, nicknamed "Jade Rabbit," was scheduled to gather data and operate for three months, but the technical problems could put a premature end to the work.

Chinese scientists are investigating options for repairing the rover, but details are scarce. The problems could be caused by lunar dust or the extreme hot and cold temperatures the machines have to weather.

The rover had already been in and out of hibernation due to the lack of solar power during the long lunar night. The project was designed to seek out natural resources on the moon and study the surface geology. An arm attached to the rover had been successfully tested.

China is hardly the only country to deal with technical snafus during space missions. Not every rover can be like Opportunity on Mars, living on a distant heavenly body, and staying operational for more than a decade.

(Via SCMP)