GANSU, CHINA – In the haze of a recent sandstorm and / or pollution from an industrial lithium mining town 40 km away from its hard to know where one is ...Welcome to Mars Base No. 1. It’s not on the planet Mars nor is it part of the film set for Matt Damon’s “The Martian.” This is China’s first Mars simulation base, which looks to have fallen from outer space into the Gobi desert in China’s arid, remote north-central province of Gansu. The base was built at the cost of $61 million, for a reality TV series produced by Youku (China’s equivalent of YouTube). Space Challenge involved six celebrities and a dog living out of the mock Mars base while being trained by real Chinese astronauts and scientists to complete fictional missions. With the show now wrapped and the support of the Astronaut centre of China, the base has become a centre for education and tourism – to inspire the next generation of space explorers. China is playing catch-up with the United States and Russia on interplanetary exploration: In 2018, China sent more rockets into space than any other nation. In January, China landed a probe on the dark side of the moon, and it has plans to put an international space station into orbit as well as launch a rover on the surface of Mars by 2020.

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