As China's thirst for space exploration shows no signs of waning after it became the first country to land on the dark side of the moon, on Wednesday it launched a simulation center designed to give Earthlings a taster of what deep space travel and life on Mars could be like.

Sitting in the vast planes of the Gobi desert some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Jinchang in northern China, Mars Base 1 is a huge complex of nine interconnecting spaces spanning 1,000 square meters, although future plans for this Martian project are far more ambitious.

"This is not just futuristic, it is also about what it means to be human and return to our roots," Zhao Tianshu the director of the educational program at C-Space, the company in charge of the Mars Base 1 cosmic education project, told Efe.

Space tourism has gripped the Asian giant, especially following the Chang'e 4 lunar exploration mission successfully landed on the far side of the moon on Jan. 3, and this facility is hoping to cater for a growing interest in space exploration among young rookie Chinese astronauts.

The project has been backed by C-Space, local authorities and the Astronaut Centre of China.

The simulator, so far, has a series of capsules-come-bedrooms, a small medical center, bathrooms, and thousands of screens that display reams of data.

There is also a greenhouse with artificial light that harvests leeks, lettuces, wheat and cultivates worms for those in need of an exotic ration of protein.

As well as the domestic areas, there is a space module and exploration vehicles, and a black monolith that is remarkably similar to the one featured in Kubrick's "2001: Space Odyssey" (1968) movie.

But beyond the futuristic screens and neon lights which make the project look like a Star Trek set, the managers of the base are keen for visitors to go back to basics and learn to value and look after available resources which are scarce on the Martian base.

The facility opened to the public on Wednesday to hoards of excitable teenagers.

"I was already curious about Mars and other space phenomena like black holes, now I am even keener to visit Mars," Lyu Yueyao, a 13-year-old student who was visiting the base told Efe.

With China's ambition to explore space, it could be that someone from Yueyao's generation sets foot on the red planet for the first time and the student is certain this will be the case.

"China has many advantages because we have had many excellent astronauts," she said.

"I think we will reach great achievements in the space race in the future," Yueyao added.

Her colleague Li Yaqin was equally enthusiastic.

"I have learned a lot today but there are still many mysteries that we cannot explain," Yaqin said. "I want to solve these problems in the future."

The creator of C-Space, Bai Fan's long-term aim is to create a sort of Martian holiday camp with hotels, bars and facilities that he hopes to start building next year.

His aim is that the base becomes financially viable as soon as possible, although he recognizes that this won't happen within the next decade.

For the time being Bai will have to keep his feet firmly on the ground and make do with the education workshops and camps, one-day visits that can last up to seven hours and the longer stays which take place in the "space capsules" for anywhere between three and six days.

In fact it is this last profile of visitor that Bai aims to target in the long term, not only because they are the future Mars Base I customers looking for a cosmic holiday but also because it is these longer visits that allow for a "complete experience" of living in a hostile environment with an extreme climate and limited water and food.

"People will have to consider that if one day the Earth is no longer here and they have to build a base on Mars we will not only depend on technology but on knowing how to survive," Bai added.

The creators of the base also had science fiction movies in mind when they made the station.

In fact, the facilities were used for a Chinese reality TV program featuring celebrities who were confined within the Martian holiday camp for a Big Brother-style show titled "Space Challenge."

One of the key aims of C-Space is to awaken an interest among young Chinese people to become space explorers, and although many teenagers leave excited and happy after their visit, not all of them depart with a passion to become astronauts.

"I think it would be difficult to be an astronaut," 14-year-old Dou Zhang said.

"They have to exercise every day and that is difficult. What I would like to do would be to take creatures to space or create aliens like E.T.," Zhang added. EFE-EPA

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