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Feature: The "masters" behind China's lunar rover Jade Rabbit

English.news.cn   2014-03-03 14:40:48

BEIJING, March 3 (Xinhua) -- In contrast to how much of an influence the virtual persona of China's first moon rover has made on social media home and abroad, little is known about the people behind the loveable character.

An unverified user named "Jade Rabbit Lunar Rover", who posts messages in the first-person of the rover, went viral on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo in the past three months. More than 590,000 users have followed it, with posts frequently retweeted thousands of times.

The account is believed to belong to space enthusiasts who have been following the rover's journey. Its popularity has even reached out to its "masters" -- a title that Jade Rabbit, or Yutu in Chinese, uses to refer to space scientists in China's lunar missions.

"It is a sweetheart for all of us," Ye Peijian, a top scientist with the Chang'e-3 program, the country's lunar probe mission, told Xinhua.

Ye said he has no idea who has been running the account, but posts about the mission have been generally accurate.

"We have never thought of spreading scientific knowledge in this manner," Ye said. "It is meaningful to spread important aerospace news in a light-hearted way, and to make people care."

In some 200 posts so far, the account has updated the journey, posted photographs, explained space knowledge, and shared unsettling setbacks.

"Ah... I'm broken," Yutu said in an update on Jan. 25 after authorities announced a mechanical control problem because of the "complicated lunar surface environment." The post was retweeted more than 50,000 times.

Its sentimental farewell "good night, Earth; good night, humanity" before entering a planned two-week dormancy in late January attracted attention from foreign media including AFP, AP and CNN. Ye said his friends in France and Switzerland sent newspaper clippings about local media reports on the Yutu Weibo.

To many people's surprise, Yutu "woke up" to a status capable of receiving signals -- although some control problems remain unresolved -- on Feb. 12. "Hi, anybody there?" the account asked, prompting over 60,000 reposts and 40,000 comments within hours.

Ye described Yutu as a character with a "delicate, human touch." "China's aerospace missions, led by the state, should let individuals and society feel more involved," he said.

Ye said the Yutu Weibo helped people to understand the work researchers and staff in the aerospace industry are doing.

"Some netizens said Yutu has shouldered too heavy a burden and asked not to increase it any more. This is very encouraging for those working on the space mission," said the scientist, who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top political advisory body.

Meanwhile, Yutu is in its third planned dormancy, which began on Feb. 23. In this period, the temperature falls below minus 180 degrees Celsius on the lunar surface and the rover has to stay in a power-off mode.

The rover's radar, panorama camera and infrared imaging equipment can function normally, but the control circuit malfunction that has troubled it since January persists.

"Scientists are trying to 'treat' the moon rover," Ye said, who expects Yutu to "wake up" again after the hibernation.

"My masters are trying hard to find a solution," the Jade Rabbit Weibo said earlier in a posting. "They stay up all night and I have heard their eyes are becoming as red as mine."

Ye explained that scientists had to stay up every night in the last dormancy to work during limited time slots to fix the rover.

"We hope it can live on," Ye said. "Even if we had to work every night, we would be willing to."

Yutu touched down on the moon's surface on Dec. 15, a few hours after lunar probe Chang'e-3 landed. It was expected to stay on the moon for at least three months following the landing.

Editor: Liu Dan
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