Aug 3, 2016 7:00 AM

China's Jade Rabbit lunar rover ends mission after 31 months

The Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — China's Jade Rabbit lunar rover, which won a large following on social media, has been retired after a record 31 months of collecting data from the moon's surface, state media reported Wednesday.

The rover arrived on the moon on Dec. 14, 2013, aboard the Chang'e 3 lunar lander and was designed to operate for just three months.

On July 28, Chang'e 3 went into hibernation for the 14-day lunar night and Jade Rabbit ceased operations, state media reported, citing the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

Jade Rabbit, or Yutu in Chinese, posted a final farewell on its Twitter-like Weibo microblog, questioning whether it would one day be returned to Earth. "I'm a rabbit that has seen the most stars!" the post said.

The rover's 972 operational days far exceeded the 322 chalked up by the former Soviet Union's Lunohkod 1 in 1970, achieving another milestone in China's fast-developing space program. Just weeks after it landed, engineers feared they'd lost it when it shut down under abnormal conditions, but it revived and appeared to operate efficiently until its final shutdown last week.

The rover's cameras, telescopes and radar made it a key part of the mission. Data it produced offered insights into the geological evolution of the moon.

China will attempt to land an unmanned spaceship on the moon next year that would return to Earth with samples. Only the United States and Russia have previously carried out such a maneuver successfully.

China has also hinted at a possible crewed mission to the moon.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003 and has powered ahead with a series of methodically timed steps, including the deploying of an experimental space station.

Chang'e is the name of a mythical Chinese goddess said to live on the moon and Yutu was her pet.

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