Friday, February 7, 2014


Setting down on the lunar surface in December China joined that elite group of nations (Russia, Japan, India and the United States) that has made it to the Moon.

Yutu or Jade Rabbit as it (or she) is known was designed to explore 1.2 square miles over a period of three months. It has energy during the lunar day from two solar panels but during the lunar nights which last 14 Earth days it goes into sleep mode. Usually heat is provided by radioisotope heater units and two phase fluid loops but very little is known about an abnormality that has occurred that may makes Jade Rabbit's waking up again an unknown. Apparently the abnormality occurred due to “the complicated lunar surface” and scientists in China are organizing an overhaul in hopes of continuing the mission. 

Unfortunately the lunar nights get cold, real cold, -180 degrees Celsius (minus 290-ish F). Depending on what the problem is exactly and if it can be fixed, Jade Rabbit may not wake up.

No matter what happens China obviously has a lot to be proud of and no matter how the mission ends it has had much success until right now. It is especially awe-inspiring when you consider that about half of all missions to the moon fail without having achieved nearly so much.

Going forward the Chinese have ambitious plans - both with regard to the moon and with regard to their own space-lab; Triaging-2 is due to launch in 2015 to replace Tiagong-1 which launched in 2011. A full-scale space station is planned for 2020.

As far as Mars and beyond, exploration could take place between 2014-2033 with a crewed phase following in 2040-2060. But first they want to see the placement a space weather forecast system, such as Kuafu in 2017, to make the trip safer.

In the meantime say a few words for Yutu, that she survives the long night. "Good night, planet earth. Good night, humanity." 

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