Beijing: The reports of the death of China’s favourite rabbit, if not greatly exaggerated, appear to at least be slightly premature.
The Jade Rabbit lunar rover, launched in December in an important step for Beijing’s ambitious military-run space program, has come “back to life” after running into mechanical difficulties last month, according to state news agency Xinhua.
“The rover stands a chance of being saved now that it is still alive," spokesman for the lunar program Pei Zhaoyu said on Thursday.
The news was an abrupt reversal from reports on Wednesday night, including one carried by the English-language China News Service, which said the lunar rover was “lost” and “could not be restored to full function”.
Still mourning their loss with an outpouring of sympathy online, space enthusiasts and other keen followers of the Jade Rabbit were then swiftly worked into a lather, with tens of thousands of comments posted on the subject on China’s Twitter-like Weibo within an hour of the lunar probe’s “reawakening”.
But China’s space agency was also quick to warn that its experts were still working to verify the cause of the malfunctions that preceded its troubled dormancy.
After a “mechanical control abnormality” last month, China’s space agency had warned that it may not be able to be re-establish communications with the probe after putting it to sleep for the extremely low temperatures during the lunar night, which lasts about two weeks.
State media has also played a proactive role in managing public expectations, with official news agency Xinhua publishing an unusual “first-person” account from the lunar probe on January 26, when first signs of trouble were detected.
"I originally thought I could hop around up here for three months," the posting said. "But if this trip is to end prematurely, I'm not afraid. Whether or not they can fix me, I know that my breakdown can provide my masters with a lot of valuable information and experience."
"I'll tell everyone a little secret. I'm actually not that sad. I'm just in my own adventure story, and like any protagonist, I encountered a bit of a problem. Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humans."
This was then followed by more unusually colourful reportage from the usually staid Xinhua on Thursday, with one news report urging: “Come on, let’s go, Little Rabbit!”.
While many have displayed an interest in the travails of the lunar probe, only the third soft-landing on the moon – and the first since the Soviet Union’s mission nearly four decades ago – has largely failed to resonate with the public.
Despite blanket coverage by China’s state media on December 14, the night of the launch, the top-trending topics on Weibo were a TV show and football match, with many failing to see the relevance of a belated push for space supremacy to their own lives.
“We’re now only 50 years behind the US and Russia,” one commenter on Weibo quipped dryly at the time.