In December, China joined the exclusive club of nations that has successfully landed a moon probe. Dubbed “Jade Rabbit” after the lunar goddess in Chinese mythology, the rover made a soft landing on the moon’s surface.
It was the culmination of decades of Chinese engineering and work to absorb the lessons of rival space programs. Like the United States and the Soviet Union, China wants to be taken seriously as a space-faring nation. The Jade Rabbit’s adventure is the first major-power landing of a moon rover since 1976.
The Chinese public was enthralled by Jade Rabbit. China’s government news agency acted as the “voice” for the rover by narrating its deeds in the first person.
Jade Rabbit was supposed to roam the lunar surface for three months, transmitting data to Earth about geology and mineral resources. All went according to plan until last weekend, when technical difficulties left the rover exposed to harsh elements as the 14-day lunar night fell.
During the night, temperatures drop to minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit. Jade Rabbit did not shut down in time, leaving its delicate instruments exposed to unbearable cold and radiation. Chinese scientists worked to fix the problem, but it probably is too late.
Still, Jade Rabbit’s run justifiably made China proud and reminded the world that our adventures on the moon are far from over. The last words the probe transmitted, through its official voice in Chinese media, were poignant: “Good night, planet Earth; good night, humanity.”
We’ll find out at the end of the lunar night whether Jade Rabbit survived. It just may have a second act.