BEIJING (AFP) - China's troubled Jade Rabbit lunar rover has died on the surface of the moon, state media reported Wednesday, in a major setback for the country's ambitious space programme.
The country's first moon rover "could not be restored to full function", the state-owned China News Service said in a brief report, after the landmark mission ran into mechanical problems last month.
The Jade Rabbit, or Yutu in Chinese, was deployed on the moon's surface on December 15 and was a huge source of pride in China, only the third country to complete a lunar rover mission after the United States and the former Soviet Union.
The landing was a key step forward in Beijing's ambitious military-run space programme, which include plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually sending a human to the moon.
The silver rover experienced a "mechanical control abnormality" late January due to "the complicated lunar surface environment", according to the official Xinhua news agency, and was unable to function since then.
Condolences poured in on Weibo, China's Twitter-like service, where Internet users mourned the demise of the rover, China News Service said in its brief report titled "Loss of lunar rover".
The Jade Rabbit rover had sent back its first pictures from the moon, and officials lauded the first lunar soft landing in nearly four decades as a step forward for "mankind as a whole".
"Exploration of outer space is an unremitting pursuit of mankind," China's space agency, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) said after the rover was deployed on the moon.
The mission reflects "the new glory of China to scale the peaks in world science and technology areas," it said, adding it was committed to exploring and using space "for peaceful purposes".
The lunar mission, which came a decade after China first sent an astronaut into space, was seen as a symbol of the country's rising global stature and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party's success in reversing the fortunes of the once-impoverished nation.
Beijing plans to establish a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send a human to the moon.
The potential to extract the moon's resources has been touted as a key reason behind Beijing's space programme, with the moon believed to hold uranium, titanium, and other mineral resources, as well as offering the possibility of solar power generation.