The Qaidam Basin in the northwestern province of Qinghai has the most Mars-like environment in China. Photo: Xinhua

A training base simulating the environmental conditions on Mars in Qinghai, part of China’s ambitious Mars exploration preparation, has been in operation since the end of last year.

The base, intended to prepare Chinese taikonauts for the extraterrestrial mission, is in the Qaidam Basin in western Qinghai, dubbed “the most Martian place on Earth” thanks to its rugged, largely uninhabited terrain and dry, frigid plateau climate.

Location of the Qaidam Basin in western Qinghai province.

Covering 702 hectares, the “Mars Village” will consist of a tourism center, a simulation base and other facilities.

The highlight will be a “Mars campsite” with experimental module-like accommodation.

Total investment is estimated at 850 million yuan (US$130 million).

Candidates for the manning of a Chinese-built space shuttle to the red planet can expect to start initial training on the base as early as next year, despite the fact that Beijing has never promulgated a tentative timetable for such an expedition, of 54.6 million kilometers one way at minimum.

Photo taken in August 2017 shows red cliffs in Da Qaidam district, Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in the northwestern province of Qinghai. Photo: Xinhua

Still, China has started an unmanned Mars probe project, paving the way for sending a rover there around 2020.

Development of a prototype model of the nation’s first Mars probe is already under way.

A second Mars exploration, targeted for around 2030, is expected to bring back samples, and research on the planet’s structure, composition and environment would be conducted, an engineer of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation told Xinhua.

Qaidam landscape. Photos: Xinhua

Volunteer Wang Yue from the China Astronaut Research and Training Center took part in the Mars-500 project in 2011, a psychosocial isolation experiment using a mock spacecraft conducted by Russia, the European Space Agency and China.