The rover’s return

backrover w

“Hi, is anyone there?”

Last Thursday morning a weibo account penned from the point of view of China’s first lunar rover, Yutu, crackled into life once again.­

It had been 19 days since scientists last had contact with the exploratory vehicle, whose name means Jade Rabbit in Mandarin. Because of an earlier malfunction there were fears that it had not survived the two-week-long lunar night.

But the latest message, followed a few minutes later by a short bulletin from state news agency Xinhua, gave Yutu’s fans new hope that the rover might complete its mission. Later in the day a spokesman for the space programme confirmed that Yutu was functioning again – albeit in a limited way.

“You’re alive!”, “We love you little Bunny!”, “The whole nation is behind you!”, were just some of the 30,000 responses posted on Yutu’s account over the remainder of the day.

There was also new speculation about who was responsible for these first-person messages which seemed to be part human, part rabbit and part computer. The obvious answer was the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence, the government agency responsible for the rover, although officials there denied it.

Some netizens even seemed to believe that the messages were coming from Yutu itself, using technology similar to Siri, the personal assistant on iPhones. But in the end the truth turned out to be much more prosaic.  On Monday Sina Weibo announced that the account was run by Guoke, a website specialising in technology news and operated by Xinhua.

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