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Jade Rabbit awakes from nap on moon

China's lunar rover Yutu has woken up after its second period of dormancy was haunted by mechanical problems, though engineers are still striving to solve the abnormality.

"Yutu has been awake and we have received signals from it," Pei Zhaoyu, spokesman for China's lunar exploration program, said on Thursday. "The rover has resumed the condition it was in before the second dormancy, but problems still remain."

Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, was named after the pet of a lunar goddess in ancient Chinese mythology. It was designed to roam the lunar surface to survey the moon's geological structure and surface substances and look for natural resources. It was expected to work on the moon for at least three months after it landed in mid-December.

But the 140-kg, six-wheeled rover entered dormancy in an abnormal state on Jan 25 as the lunar night fell, Pei said.

"Our engineers worried that it might have failed to endure the extremely low temperature during the lunar night," he said. "But it finally came back. At least it is still alive."

One night on the moon is about 14 days on Earth, during which the temperature falls below minus 180 C. During the lunar night, there is no sunlight to provide power to Yutu's solar panel.

Pei added the moon rover has now been restored to its normal signal reception function. But experts are still working to verify the cause of its mechanical control abnormality.

The abnormality occurred due to the "complicated lunar surface environment", according to an earlier statement released by the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, which oversees the nation's space program. It did not give further details.

"When Yutu was undergoing tests on Earth, engineers set up a laboratory in a desert to simulate the rigorous environment on the moon and the rover has passed numerous tough tests," said Wang Ya'nan, deputy editor-in-chief at Aerospace Knowledge magazine.

"The public should understand that space exploration is full of uncertainties and possibilities," he added. "Among the 130 lunar probe activities performed by humans during the past 50 some years, nearly half of them failed."

Wang said that difficulties could sometimes enrich scientists' knowledge and improve technologies.

"I think China's lunar program is progressing steadily and smoothly and its technologies are reliable. Some minor difficulties can't diminish its success."

Chinese scientists and engineers had prepared for unexpected situations long before Chang'e-3 landed on the moon.

"We made more than 200 plans to respond to any possible emergency and they cover each step of the mission," Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar probe system, told China Daily earlier.

The Chang'e-3 lunar probe soft-landed on the moon on Dec 14, making China the third country to successfully soft-land on the moon after the United States and the Soviet Union.

Several hours after the landing, Yutu separated from the lander and began to conduct its tasks, including analyzing major elements on the lunar surface and studying mineral resources of the celestial body.

Chang'e-3 is part of the second phase of China's lunar program, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to the Earth. It follows the success of the Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010. 

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