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Long lunar night wait for China's malfunctioning Jade Rabbit moon rover

A photograph of the giant screen at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center shows photo of the Yutu, or "Jade Rabbit" lunar rover taken by the
A photograph of the giant screen at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center shows photo of the Yutu, or "Jade Rabbit" lunar rover taken by the

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese scientists will have to wait until the end of a long lunar night, lasting about 14 earth days, to see if repair efforts on the country's first moon rover, dubbed Jade Rabbit, were successful, state media said.

Jade Rabbit began experiencing "mechanical control abnormalities" on Saturday when entering the lunar night, which exposes the surface to extreme cold over about 14 earth days. The rover is supposed to shut down during that period.

"The complicated environment on the moon's surface is frequently the main reason leading to abnormalities in the lunar vehicle," Pang Zhihao, an expert from the China Academy of Space Technology, told state media.

Strong radiation, weak gravity, extreme temperature variations and other factors could be to blame for the malfunctions, Pang told the Science and Technology Daily.

China landed Jade Rabbit, named after a lunar goddess in traditional Chinese mythology, in mid-December to domestic fanfare on a mission to conduct geological surveys and search for natural resources.

The landing was a point of national pride and seen as a demonstration of the country's ability to engage in sophisticated space operations.

China has been increasingly ambitious in developing its space programs for military, commercial and scientific purposes. But it is still playing catch-up to established space superpowers, the United States and Russia.

The Jade Rabbit, and the Chang'e 3 probe that delivered it, marked the first "soft landing" on the moon since 1976, before which both the United States and the Soviet Union accomplished the feat.

The United States has successfully landed four rovers on Mars, two of which are still active. The decade-old Opportunity, recently found evidence that life-friendly fresh water once pooled on the red planet's surface.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Michael Perry)