Going to Mars still isn't much of a possibility for a lot of us, but there's a closer and undoubtedly cheaper alternative.
A view of the site of the future base [Photo by Xinhua / Barcroft Images]
There's an average distance of 255 million kilometers between Earth and Mars. Also, it can take a year to travel to the red planet. Conceivably, the expenses are also quite exorbitant, pun intended. However, if you want to know what it would be like to spend time on Mars, you won't have to actually go there. Instead, you can fly to Beijing's international airport and visit a simulated Mars station after around a seven-hour flight.
China is planning on building a $61 billion replica of Mars on a 95,000 square kilometer land in the Tibetan plateau. The area isn't far from the westernmost end of the Great Wall. It's a basin of red rock which will soon become a research base as well as an eco-tourism site wherein tourists can go “glamping”.
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, takes a photo of an actual Mars landscape [Image by NASA]
The site is in Qinghai province’s Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan autonomous prefecture, in an area with red rock that Xinhua, China's official news agency, described as the most “Martian place on Earth”. It has natural features, landscapes, and climate reminiscent of those on Mars itself.
In November of last year, the Haixi government and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) signed an agreement to build the base. Both institutions have been in talks about the location of project. Scientists from CAS have also been participating the preparation for a Mars simulation base.
One part of the base is a “hyper-arid” camp in a high altitude area that will serve as a training camp for Chinese astronauts. Another part, however, will be a campsite for tourists that want to experience what going to Mars might be like. There will be “module-like accommodations” that will be resemble what living conditions might be like on Mars. Tourists will be able to experience weightlessness and can also hike through the area's arid landscapes. It will be somewhat like hiking through Mars itself.
Does the Mars replica site in China resemble Mars's landscapes? [Photo by Xinhua / Barcroft Images]
Of course, the campsite won't be a lot like a campsite on Mars. For one thing, China's campsite would be far more hospitable than a campsite on the red planet, whose surface is said to be quite hot. Also, Mars has an unbreathable atmosphere, with only 0.2% oxygen.
China's Mars replica is set to increase tourism as well as awareness of Mars's space program, says deputy mayor Zhang Biao of Delingha, the city nearest the replica site. “The building of the Mars village has both scientific and ecological significance,” Zhang told Xinhua.
According to reports, China is planning on building an operational and permanently manned space station by 2022. Since Xi Jinping cam to power in 2012, China has been working to establish itself as a space superpower. This Mars replica campsite, set to give both astronauts and tourists a better idea of what going to Mars is like, will certainly help put China on the spacefaring map.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!