With most of the latest space exploration excitement coming from Mars, it almost seems like we’ve forgotten about exploration of our own moon. China, however, decided to delve into space exploration for itself and with the help of the Chang’e spacecraft landed a rover, Yutu, last month on the Moon’s surface. Unfortunately, though, Yutu’s mission may be at a premature end as the vehicle left a sad message after malfunctioning.
Solar panels power Yutu, so its primary operations happen during the two Earth weeks that the sun actually shines on the Moon (this is a lunar day). The vehicle then hibernates for the next two weeks, when night falls on the Moon, but during the last lunar night, Yutu stayed awake. This is particularly stressful on the vehicle’s operating systems because its sleep mode includes functions that keep it heated so it doesn't freeze. According to Chinese authorities, a "mechanical control abnormality" occurred during the previous lunar night and Yutu didn't go into hibernation like it was supposed to.
Poor Yutu, right? If that weren't sad enough, the vehicle sent a tear-jerking message before malfunctioning via China’s Xinhua news agency:
"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. [Chang’e] doesn't know about my problems yet. If I can’t be fixed, everyone please comfort her. Before departure, I studied the history of mankind’s lunar probes. 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 sun has fallen and the temperature is dropping so quickly… to tell you all a secret, I don’t feel that sad. I was just in my own adventure story — and like every hero, I encountered a small problem. Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humanity."
If Yutu is at the end of its journey, it won’t be forgotten: the vehicle took some beautiful photographs of the moon during its visit, while managing to last for half of its scheduled mission time. Fortunately, Chang’e entered hibernation on schedule and the Chinese expect to continue its primary mission until next year.