China's troubled Jade Rabbit rover has woken from its hibernation on the moon, sending a message back to its handlers. But its problems aren't over yet.
"Hi, anyone there?" was the post on Jade Rabbit's unofficial Weibo account on Thursday, which got thousands of responses from enthusiastic followers.
Xinhua quoted space program spokesman Pei Zhaoyu as saying that the rover had "come back to life" and was sending and receiving messages but that scientists were still investigating its mechanical difficulties.
The problem occurred shortly before the rover was set to go into a state of dormancy during the lunar nighttime, and mission control officials weren't even sure they'd be able to contact it again. Thursday's signal from the rover was a first step toward a possible fix.
NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports that experts thought the six-wheeled rover's electronics wouldn't survive the frigid cold of the lunar night. Now, "it remains to be seen whether the little rabbit is healthy enough to continue its journey."
"Chinese authorities have not offered specifics on the problems, though several overseas-based space-related websites have said a solar panel failed to fold and close, perhaps leaving the rover's instrumentation exposed to extremely low temperatures."
Jade Rabbit, or Yutu in Chinese, touched down on the moon's surface on Dec. 15, making China only the third country after the U.S. and the former Soviet Union to accomplish such a feat. The rover has been a huge source of pride in China, but less than six weeks into its mission, it started to show signs of a malfunction.
"The silver rover had a mechanical control abnormality late January due to 'the complicated lunar surface environment,' according to the official Xinhua news agency. It had been unable to function since then."
As recently as Wednesday, it sounded like all was lost when China's state-run media issued an item stating that Jade Rabbit "could not be restored to full function on Monday as expected."