• Yao Ming made NBA history when he became the first Chinese player to be drafted as no. 1 pick.

Yao Ming made NBA history when he became the first Chinese player to be drafted as no. 1 pick. (Photo : Getty Images)

China has appointed basketball star and Internet celebrity Yao Ming as the country's ambassador to Mars, an article published by rt.com said.

Ming however will be carrying out his duties on Earth by promoting China's first mission to the Red Planet in 2020, the report said.

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With the help of the 2.29-meter-tall (7ft 6 in) athlete, the government hopes to generate interest and support for its effort to send a rover to Mars. China's rover will join NASA's Curiosity spacecraft on the planet.

According to a report by the South China Morning Post, China has recruited eleven ambassadors who included Liu Cixin, a science-fiction writer and Lang Ping, coach of the women's Olympic volleyball team. The Boyband TFBOYS were also nominated as ambassadors.

The report however, said that China has no plans to put a man on Mars but aims to build a base on the moon.

China can take advantage of Yao Ming's popularity, not only as a sportsman who played in the NBA for the Houston Rockets, but also as an Internet sensation with his famous laughing face which is now a popular online meme. These could help enhance support for the costly mission, the report said.

Despite an injury in 2008, Yao Ming led the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics and showed his support for the country by playing in the tournament.

In 2020, China plans to send a mission to Mars to study the atmosphere and the planet's soil through a solar-powered 200-kg rover. A campaign was already initiated by the National Space Administration to gather public support by soliciting submissions for the mission's name and logo.

If the mission succeeds, China will become the second country to send a rover to Mars. In 2003, China has successfully placed a man in space, following the footsteps of the U.S. and Russia.