The past few months have been exciting for China’s ambitious space program. Following a successful lunar landing on the Moon’s dark side and several captivating announcements for the future, Wu Weiren, the chief designer behind China’s lunar exploration program, stated that the next natural step is the Red Planet, in a move to bridge the gap between Planet Earth’s world space powers.

An additional Chinese probe will be sent to the Moon in the near future to extract samples, a feat only successfully accomplished so far by the United States and Russia, while the race to explore Mars remains the greatest prize. Humanity has only successfully landed on the Red Planet eight times, all missions operated by the United States. China aims to change that in 2020.

As Wu Weiren spoke ahead of the opening of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a Mars Simulation base opened in Qinghai’s Qaidam Basin, the highest desert on Earth and closest environment compared to the Martian Surface. The cost of the simulation base exceeds $22 Million (150 Million Yuan), spanning 53,330 square meters, accommodating sixty humans within the capsules and hundreds in the tents surrounding the base.

Mars simulation base, construction started in June 2018 at a cost of about 150 million yuan ($22.3 million). 

The base is located in Mangai city, Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Northwest China’s Qinghai Province.

The Martian atmosphere remains a hostile environment, containing low air pressure, strikingly different geographical features, monstrous and frequent sandstorms, while constantly bathed in radiation, making any authentic simulation on Earth extremely difficult. Having entered the space race much later than its geopolitical rivals, China launched its first satellite into orbit in 1970, when US boots already marched (hopped) on lunar soil. Nevertheless, the Chinese remain determined and their progress in recent years proves them as formidable space explorers. Since 2003, six Chinese crews launched into space, along with two space labs which continue to orbit the Earth. In 2013, the rover Yutu 1 successfully landed on the Moon, making China the third country to claim this accomplishment. In December 2018, Lunar Rover Yutu 2 made international headlines by landing on the far side of the Moon. Now China plans to launch its first Mars Probe in 2020, then after orbiting, land a rover, a bold and daring move that would sound a roar to its Outer Space rivals.