Goodbye Yutu! The Chinese lunar rover has been declared dead following 31 months on the Moon.
Yutu was part of the Chinese Chang’e-3 mission to the Moon, becoming the first spacecraft to soft-land on the Moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976. It also made China the third country to take a giant leap and put a spacecraft on the Moon, after Russia and the USA. The data collected by Yutu has led to the creation of over 100 scientific papers about the Moon, one of the most notable being the discovery of a layer of lava flows beneath the surface.
Although the initial expected lifetime of Yutu was just three months, it ended up operating for over two years. Despite being prematurely declared dead in early 2014, the rover managed to survive a cold two-week lunar night, but lost its ability to move around due to the “complicated lunar surface environment”. Most importantly, it achieved China’s key aims of the mission – soft-landing on the Moon and exploring the dusty surface of our nearest neighbour.
The Chinese Space Agency had already made significant progress in low Earth orbit, including sending its first astronaut to space in 2003 and the operation of the Tiangong Space Station. For China, the Chang’e-3 mission was a major leap in their space exploration of places further afield. Next year, China hopes to land an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon once more, this time with the aim of returning samples to Earth for scientists to study.