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China’s lunar rover has mechanical trouble

BEIJING — China says its first lunar rover is experiencing mechanical problems, a rare setback for its burgeoning space program that in recent years has conducted space walks and placed a space station in orbit.

The six-wheeled Yutu vehicle began operating last month after making the first soft landing on the moon by a space probe in 37 years. It was designed to roam the lunar surface for three months while surveying for natural resources and sending back data, along with its stationary lander, Chang’e 3.

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The mission has been a popular success for China’s space program and the rover has attracted more than 150,000 followers on its microblog. It last posted on Saturday saying repairs were underway.

The mechanical problems appeared to be related to the solar-powered probe’s process for shutting down for the lunar night, which lasts more than two weeks. The temperature during that time drops to minus 292 degrees.

The 300-pound rover was traversing a relatively flat part of the moon known as Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, at a speed of 200 yards per hour. The landing vehicle, which has already shut down for the lunar night, is designed to conduct scientific examinations for one year.

Online speculation focused on the possibility of lunar dust having blocked one of the solar panels from folding inward, leaving equipment exposed to the dangerously low temperatures. It won’t be known if the probe is able to function again until after the two-week break.

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