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A small step for China, big step for teenagers: Mars base opens for visitors

China opened its space base in a desert, and a few children were lucky enough to be the first visitors to experience the environment of the red planet first hand.

On the sets of Star Wars?

About 100 excited Chinese teenagers completed a five-hour tour of a space colony against a desolate backdrop not unlike the desert planet of Tatooine, the home world of Luke Skywalker.

They were not on the set of Star Wars, but at a Chinese-built Mars simulation base in the barren, windswept hills of Gansu province.

(Photograph:Reuters)

'A Mars on Earth'

The facility - comprising several interconnected modules including a greenhouse and a mock decompression chamber - opened its doors to the public on Wednesday.

Mars Base 1 Camp, covering an area about one-fifth of an American football field, is the brainchild of a media company and officials in Gansu, a poor province in northwest China.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Boost to tourism

Officials hope the camp, about 40 km from the township of Jinchang, will boost tourism and allow visitors to feel as though they are on the red planet.

A plan to invest 2.5 billion yuan ($374 million) will expand the site to 67 sq km and attract two million visitors a year by 2030.

(Photograph:Reuters)

From far side of the moon to Mars simulation

China's space programme has fired up imaginations and public appetite for science and science fiction.

In January, a Chinese space probe touched down on the far side of the moon for the first time, a feat viewed with pride among ordinary Chinese people.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Mission 2020

China is developing powerful rockets to help realise a more ambitious dream of sending a probe to Mars in 2020. After that, scientists hope to explore asteroids and even land on one.

(Photograph:Reuters)

Astronaut-training centre soon?

Apart from being a tourist attraction, the camp has collaborated with the Astronauts Centre of China (ACC) to eventually turn the facility into an astronaut-training centre.

The camp is not the only Mars-themed site in China. On the neighbouring Qinghai-Tibet plateau, China unveiled its first Mars "village" in March.

(Photograph:Reuters)