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China’s lunar rover reported to be malfunctioning

China’s recent moon launch was to be a testament to the country’s technological prowess as it joined Russia and the United States in the exclusive club of countries sending successful “soft landing” missions that allow them to explore the lunar surface.

And everything seemed to be going right until recently, when the lunar rover, called the Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, malfunctioned, leaving its fate in doubt — and raising questions about the country’s abilities to fulfill its vast ambitions in space.

The China News Service said Wednesday that the rover “could not be restored to full function.” But that was followed Thursday with a report by Xinhua, the state news agency, saying that the Jade Rabbit had “come back to life” and that its signal reception was back to normal — but that its fate was still uncertain.

According to the website of Guangming Daily, a Chinese state-run newspaper, Pei Zhaoyu, a spokesman for China’s lunar program, said: “Jade Rabbit entered sleep in an abnormal state. Initially, we were worried that it wouldn’t be able to handle the extremely low temperatures of the lunar night, but it came around. At least it’s still alive, and so there’s the chance of saving it.”

The mission carries symbolic significance for China and was seen as a precursor to more ambitious lunar operations by a country that seeks to have a small space station aloft within a decade. When the rover landed in mid-December, engineers involved in the project were seen on television embracing and crying over the mission’s initial success.

But three weeks ago, cryptic signals began emerging about its troubles, with state media posting a supposed statement by the hobbled spacecraft in which it ruminated about its impending demise, saying, “Although I should’ve gone to bed this morning, my masters discovered something abnormal with my mechanical control system.”

It added, “I’m aware that I might not survive this lunar night.”

Gerry Mullany, The New York Times

Italy’s prime minister resigns amid party revolt

ROME — Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta, whose weak coalition government has come under increasing criticism, announced Thursday that he would resign, after his own Democratic Party staged a dramatic insurrection and set the stage to replace him with the party’s new leader, Matteo Renzi.

The Democratic Party is the largest member of Italy’s coalition government, and the party’s decision to dump Letta could be put to a confidence vote in Parliament. Letta will meet with his Cabinet on Friday morning and then present his resignation letter to Italy’s president, making way for Renzi, 39, to become Italy’s youngest prime minister.

Renzi, the mayor of Florence who recently won a nationwide primary to become leader of the Democratic Party, has a reputation for boldness and has long been considered Italy’s most promising young politician. He has spoken repeatedly about the need for sweeping political and economic changes. But few analysts foresaw that he would lead a revolt against his party’s sitting prime minister. “

Italy is suffering through a prolonged recession, even as some other European countries are starting to emerge from a devastating downturn. Unemployment tops 12 percent, and while business leaders have called for major reforms to spur economic growth, Italy’s political system has been stalemated, largely unable to respond.

—Jim Yardley, The New York Times