China's moon rover, the Jade Rabbit, could be going gently into that good night after experiencing a "mechanical control abnormality".
State news agency Xinhua reported the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence as saying that the rover was having trouble due to the "complicated lunar surface environment".
Jade Rabbit, or Yutu, was about to enter its second dormancy period through the lunar night when the problem emerged. A night on the Moon lasts around 14 Earth days. Yutu can't function during this time because there's no sunlight to provide power to its solar panel.
The rover previously went dormant and came back during the first lunar night of the mission, but there's no guarantee it will wake up again this time – although the administration is attempting to fix it.
News of the Rabbit's troubles prompted a big response on China's microblogging site Weibo, where folks were praising the little rover's efforts so far. Apparently in response, Xinhua posted an article in Chinese as if Yutu was talking to the Chinese people, which may have been based on Weibo comments.
“The bad news is, I was supposed to go to sleep this morning, but before I went to sleep, my masters found some mechanical control abnormalities,” the post, translated by The Times, AFP and others, reads.
“Some parts of my body won’t listen to their commands. Now my masters are hard at work thinking of ways to fix me... Even so, I know that it’s possible I won’t be able to endure this night.
“I originally thought I could hop around up here for three months.
“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.”
“The Sun here has fallen, and the temperature is dropping fast. I’ve said a lot today, but I still feel it’s not enough.
“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.”
Yutu landed on the Moon in December as part of China's Chang'e-3 mission and was expected to operate for around three months. The rover was named after a mythological pet of the moon goddess Chang'e. ®