space travel

RIP Jade Rabbit, China’s Adorably Named Lunar Rover

In this image taken by the on-board camera of the lunar probe Chang'e-3 and made off the screen of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, China's first moon rover 'Yutu' - or Jade Rabbit - is on the lunar surface in the area known as Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows) Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. Yutu touched down on the moon and left deep traces on its loose soil, state media reported Sunday, several hours after the country successfully carried out the world's first soft landing of a space probe on the moon in nearly four decades.

Late last year, China ticked off a legitimate milestone in its space program: It landed a rover on the moon and used it to explore the lunar surface remotely. That it named the rover Jade Rabbit only added to the excitement, because that is just an adorable moniker. Sadly, the official Xinhua news service reported that after a malfunction late last month, the remote-controlled vehicle has permanently ceased to function. In other words, Jade Rabbit is dead. Doesn’t that sound sad? The Chinese public sure thinks so.

According to the Guardian, “condolences poured in on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, where internet users mourned the demise of the rover, China News Service said in its brief report entitled Loss of lunar rover.” In late January, when Jade Rabbit (Yutu, in Chinese) began malfunctioning, an account for the rover went viral, and supporters posted sentimental messages such as this one from a Weibo user going by Amaniandlove:

You have done a great job Yutu. You have endured extreme hot and cold temperatures and shown us what we have never seen. Hope you get well soon, but no matter what, it is your presence that makes the planet about 390 thousand kilometers away dazzling

Do you remember any en masse public mourning when the U.S. Mars rover Spirit stopped working? No. Scientists used words such as disappointing, but nobody seemed terribly sad about the whole thing. That’s what happens when you have children name your spacecraft but let boring adults choose the winner. The name Jade Rabbit suggests a pet, something deserving of affection, that you’ll miss when it’s gone. Spirit just sounds like, well, a government space mission. Like Apollo or Curiosity or Space Shuttle Atlantis. We miss the space shuttles, sure, but nobody really mourns them.

Anyway, China has plans for a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually a manned lunar mission, so there will surely be more chances to form attachments to adorably named, inanimate objects.

RIP Jade Rabbit, China’s Lunar Rover