China’s lunar rover is dead — most likely for good this time. The little bot named Yutu, which means "jade rabbit," has stopped scientific operations after more than 31 months on the lunar surface, Xinhua News reports. The news of its demise was released on China’s social media, thanks to the user "Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover" who posts personal updates from the rover.
China confirmed that Yutu has indeed closed up for business
"Hi! This could be the last greetings from me!" the user wrote, according to Xinhua News. China’s Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense confirmed that Yutu has indeed closed up for business.
Yutu was launched to the Moon in 2013 as part of China’s Chang’e 3 mission. It marked the first time that the country successfully put a rover on the lunar surface, as well as the first soft landing on the Moon since 1976. Originally, the rover was only supposed to last three months, but the little vehicle has continued to survive in temperatures that were thought to be too cold for the robot. It now holds the record for the longest-operating lunar rover.
The rover has had its share of problems though. China thought it had lost communications with Yutu in February 2014, when it did not check in with the ground after enduring a "lunar night." All areas of the Moon go through about 14 days of sunlight, followed by 14 days of night, when temperatures can reach -298 degrees Fahrenheit. Chinese officials thought the rover was dead after the 14-day-long lunar night, but it eventually reestablished communications about a day later. However, the rover suffered "a mechanical control abnormality" prior to the lunar night and has been unable to move for most of its mission time.
China has learned a lot from its rover
Still, China has learned a lot from its rover. Yutu and the Chang’e 3 lander have taken some breathtaking photos while on the surface of the Moon. Data from Yutu also showed that the Moon has nine distinct layers of rock underneath its surface — and analysis of the rover’s landing site revealed it to be very compositionally different from the Apollo landing sites. It suggests that the Moon has had a fairly complex geological history, marked by extensive volcanic activity.
China’s lunar ambitions don’t end with Yutu, though. The country’s next lunar mission, Chang’e 5, is meant to land on the surface of the Moon by 2017 and will bring lunar samples back to Earth. Then in 2018, China plans to launch Chang’e 4, which will include another lander rover. But that one will touch down on the far side of the Moon — the part of the satellite that never faces Earth and has never been explored.