China has unveiled a US$61 million development plan to build a simulated version of Mars in the country’s far northwest.
The simulated Mars base will be built in the red rock area in Qaidam basin in Qinghai province, which has been called the the most "Martian" place on Earth as its natural features, landscape and climate all resemble those on the red planet, state Xinhua news agency said.
"As China's only Mars science and recreation base, we hope it will focus on the scientific theme of space exploration," said Liu Xiaoqun, from the moon and deep-space exploration department of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, CAS.
Liu said the 95,000 square-kilometer base is expected to consist of a "Mars community" and a "Mars campsite." The campsite will simulate a base on Mars with a number of experimental module-like accommodations,
A Mars-themed amusement park will also be created to receive tourists hungering for a taste of life on Mars.
“People dream about migrating to Mars, so what we want to do is give people a high-end experience of what it would actually be like to live in outer space,” Liu said.
China has started an unmanned Mars probe project and plans to launch an official probe in 2020.
Jiao Weixin, a space science professor at Peking University, told the Global Times that the simulation base may do little to help China's exploration of Mars.
"Although the terrain closely resembles that of Mars, in terms of atmosphere, magnetic field and gravity, it will be difficult for the Mars simulation base to imitate the original," Jiao said.
The government of Haixi and the CAS signed an agreement in November last year to build the base, but it's unknown when it may be open to scientists and the public.
Zhang Biao, the deputy mayor of Delingha, Haixi, said the project would boost the local economy as well as awareness of Beijing’s space program.
"The building of the Mars simulation base has both scientific and ecological significance. It can improve public awareness of space exploration while bringing economic benefits to Haixi," Zhang said.