China's Crippled Lunar Rover Starts Two-Week-Long Snooze

Image: Chang'e 3 lander
This photo from China's Yutu moon rover, showing the Chang'e 3 lander, was tweeted by the state-run Xinhua news agency on Saturday. "Yutu snaps Chang'e-3 before its 3rd dormancy," Xinhua reported. "Mechanical issues remain unresolved."SASTIND via @XHNews

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China's crippled lunar rover has started its third sleep cycle on the moon, stuck in place due to an mechanical problem.

A photo from the solar-powered Yutu rover, showing a portion of the Chang'e 3 lunar lander, was passed along on social-media accounts on Saturday just as it was being shut down for the two-week-long lunar night. The state-run Xinhua news service's Twitter account reported that Yutu's mechanical problems remained unresolved. The caption accompanying the posting on the rover's unofficial Weibo account was simpler: "zZZ."

Both Chang'e 3 (named after a Chinese moon goddess) and Yutu (Chinese for "Jade Rabbit," Chang'e's mythological pet) have to shut down during the night to conserve power. The paired probes landed on Dec. 14 and already have gone through two sleep-and-wake cycles. However, Yutu struggled with this month's wakeup call and couldn't move. During the past two weeks of mission activity, it carried out scientific observations from a fixed position, Xinhua reported.

It's not clear whether the Jade Rabbit will ever hop again. The Yutu rover's primary mission was scheduled to last just three months. The Chang'e 3 lander, which began its own sleep cycle on Sunday, is designed to operate for at least a year on the lunar surface.

— Alan Boyle, NBC News