Chinese astronauts, aka taikonauts, will soon be taking their first baby steps toward a future trek to Mars in the 2030s, from a new training facility in northwestern China’s Qinghai province whose terrain and landscape bear striking resemblances to the red planet.
China has just inaugurated its first Mars simulation base in Mangya, a county-level city in mountainous, sparsely populated Qinghai, near the upper reaches of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau with an average elevation of 3,000 meters above sea level.
Xinhua noted that the red granite rock area in the region’s Qaidam Basin has been dubbed by Chinese astronomers and geologists as the most “Martian” site in China. The rarefied region is China’s most extensive yardang, wind-eroded landscape where temperatures fluctuate extremely between day and night.
The basin is hailed as China’s Wadi Rum, a valley and United Nations World Heritage site in southern Jordan where Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster The Martian was shot.
Covering an area of 53,330 square meters, the 150 million yuan (US$22.3 million) facility in the wilderness of China’s largely uninhabited northwest will accommodate 60 taikonauts in its mock-up spaceships and living quarters designed for training purposes.
The base consists of a “Mars landing” simulator and a fully enclosed “Mars camp” with a mix of tent and cabin accommodation for a fully immersive experience of life on Mars.
Chinese engineers are making headway toward the 2020 launch of the first Mars probe, which will orbit, land on and place a rover on Mars.
Other countries have set up similar bases that simulate the journey to the red planet and life on Mars.
In 2015, a study funded by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) allowed six researchers to live in a “Martian” habitat in Hawaii for a year, while in 2010-11, a group of volunteers, one of them Chinese, lived in a pseudo-spaceship in Moscow for up to 520 days – the estimated time it would take for a round trip to Mars.