The Jade Rabbit did not go quietly into that long lunar night. Instead, China's troubled robotic moon rover -- given voice by a government news agency -- melodramatically pondered the meaning of its perhaps-fleeting existence, measured its contribution to humanity and, finally, said goodbye.
Then it shut down for the lunar night, which lasts about 14 earth days -- its status unclear.
The Jade Rabbit's fans in China sent Lunar New Year greetings to the robot Friday, wishing it a speedy recovery from a malfunction it reported before going into hibernation.
"Chinese people have been worried about the Jade Rabbit," wrote a microblogger with the username Yang Huiyan. "Hope the New Year will bring good luck to him."
The official Xinhua News Agency had carried what it described as a diary entry the rover "wrote" before it shut down.
Despite being usually staid in their coverage of national events, Chinese state media tend to put a folksy touch on certain stories that help drum up national pride. State news outlets are especially fond of giving cutesy personalities to non-human actors playing key roles in propaganda efforts, whether they are pandas returning from zoos abroad or, in the Jade Rabbit's case, the stars of its military-backed space program.
In the Xinhua diary entry, the Jade Rabbit takes on the tone of a heroic adventurer who has encountered an obstacle that might prove insurmountable, and who is trying to put on a brave face as it pens what might be its final farewell.
"If this journey must come to an early end, I am not afraid," said the six-wheeled, solar-powered rover. "Whether or not the repairs are successful, I believe even my malfunctions will provide my masters with valuable information and experience."
The personification of the rover has been a hit with the Chinese public. Parts of the Xinhua report were quoted by an unofficial Chinese microblog account written with the Jade Rabbit's voice, and the blog was flooded with tens of thousands of sympathetic comments.
As for the rover's fate, a report Thursday by the state-run Science and Technology Daily newspaper said that would only be clear at the end of the lunar night. Calls to the space program rang unanswered Friday, a public holiday.
On Sunday, the rover said its "masters" -- the space program's engineers, presumably -- had found an abnormality in its control mechanism and were working through the night to fix it. It provided no details on what the problem was, but hinted that it was serious. (continued...)
© 2014 Associated Press/AP Online under contract with NewsEdge. All rights reserved.