• China plans to explore Mars by 2020.

China plans to explore Mars by 2020. (Photo : Getty Images)

China is stepping up its space exploration efforts as a senior official revealed the country’s plans on landing on Mars by 2020.

In a rare event, Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the Moon and Mars missions of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), revealed to BBC News their plans on exploring the so-called "red planet."

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According to the Daily Mail UK, the CNSA has long been regarded as a "lone wolf" in the increasingly cooperative space exploration industry and has remained secretive about its missions until now.

The CNSA's Journey to the Moon and Mars

So far, only a couple of countries were able to launch probes to the Earth's closest neighbor planet, some of which were only flybys.

According to Space.com, the first successful flyby to Mars happened in 1965, thanks to the Indian Space Research Organization, NASA, the Soviet Union, and the European Space Agency.

The missions brought back some surprising facts about the Red Planet, one of which is that like Earth, Mars also has bodies of land poking atop its surface which looked so much like volcanoes.

In an interview posted on BBC News online on Tuesday, Wu revealed the CNSA's short-term goal to explore the moon by orbiting and landing on it.

He said they would also be bringing home rock samples from the heavenly body for analysis.

After that, they plan on settling on the surface of the moon and establish a research base, staying longer than any other space exploration mission has ever dared to remain.

Wu also declared that China's space exploration agency would be one of the first to venture into the least-explored "dark side" of the moon.

"It's quite challenging to land there, but according to research, there might be water or ice because of the lack of sunlight," Wu explained.

While all those can already be considered big revelations, the CNSA top official revealed even more surprising plans of the agency: China wants to land on Mars.

According to Wu, their journey to Mars would complete three missions worth of accomplishments.

"We will orbit Mars, land and deploy a rover--all in one mission," he proudly stated.

Cooperating with NASA

During his talk, Wu also mentioned the CNSA's openness to doing collaborative missions with other space agencies including the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

"We would like to cooperate with the U.S., especially for space and moon exploration. We would welcome this very much," he said.

However, there are several significant barriers that prevent this from becoming a reality, including the fact that NASA might refuse to work with the Chinese space agency due to its military status.