Back to Earth, China's Mars Simulation Base Welcomes First Visitors | World | News



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By Joyce Zhou and Thomas Peter

About 100 enthusiastic Chinese teens completed a five-hour tour of a colony against a desolate backdrop, not unlike the desert planet of Tatooine, Luke Skywalker's home.

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

The facility – comprised of several interconnected modules, including a greenhouse and a simulated decompression chamber – opened its doors to the public on Wednesday.

Mars Base 1 Camp, which covers an area of ‚Äč‚Äčabout a fifth of a football field, is the result of a media company and officials in Gansu, a poor province in northwest China.

Authorities are hoping the camp, about 40 kilometers from Jinchang Municipality, will boost tourism and allow visitors to feel as if they are on the red planet.

A plan to invest 2.5 billion yuan ($ 374 million) will expand the site to 67 square kilometers and attract 2 million visitors a year by 2030.

"I'm very excited to be here," said a 13-year-old student from Jinchang. "We saw the monolith, a crater and a cave. It's better than the Mars I had imagined."

In the science fiction film "2001: A Space Odyssey" of 1968, a mysterious black monolith appears before a tribe of human monkeys on the African savannah in one of the most memorable scenes in the history of Western cinema.

China's space program has awakened the public's imagination and appetite for science and science fiction.

In January, a Chinese probe landed on the other side of the moon for the first time, a feat seen with pride among the Chinese people.

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

"A nation needs people who look at the stars," said Bai Fan, CEO of Jinchang Star Universe Culture & Tourism Investment Co., the media company that co-developed the base.

"We hope the groundwork will allow them to sense the spirit of space exploration, not just experiment with the technology behind it."

In addition to being a tourist attraction, the camp collaborated with the China Astronaut Center (ACC) to eventually transform the facility into an astronaut training center.

The camp is not the only Mars themed site in China. In the neighboring plateau of Qinghai-Tibet, China inaugurated its first "village" of Mars in March.

(Reporting by Joyce Zhou and Thomas Peter; Editing by Ryan Woo and Darren Schuettler)

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