China is aiming to send a spacecraft to Mars next year, following its successful mission to the far side of the moon.
Lunar rover Jade Rabbit 2 and explorer Chang’e 4 landed on the moon in recent days and have now taken pictures of each other for scientists to study.
Officials at the Chinese space agency say they now plan to send a probe to Mars in 2020 and aim to follow that up with manned missions to the planet.
Chang’e 4 and its three predecessors were named after a Chinese goddess, who legend says has lived on the moon for thousands of years.
According to the deputy director of the country’s space agency, Wu Yanhua, the successful mission marked a turning point for Chinese space exploration.
Its first mission to Mars, Yinghuo, ended in failure in 2012 when the spacecraft carrying the probe disintegrated after failing to enter orbit around Earth.
However, now the Chinese National Space Administration reports that its space missions are proceeding as planned, with the spacecraft working well after landing on the far side of the moon.
Mr Yanhua said that the CNSA was keen to partner with outside organisations in the future: “We welcome international collaboration in developing devices aboard the spacecraft as well as domestic and foreign investment.”
The first part of CNSA’s Mars mission will involve putting a probe into orbit around the planet, but not at the expense of continued lunar activity.
“We are studying the programme of sending astronauts to the moon but it’s still in very early stages,” said Mr Yanhua, adding: “We haven’t got the approval yet.”
CNSA will also seek to construct a research station at the lunar south pole as China aims to assert itself as the equal of the US in space exploration.
“China trailed others when it came to space missions, until Chang’e 4, humankind’s first spacecraft to land on the far side of the moon,” said Wu Weiren, the chief scientist of the Chang’e 4 programme.
He explained the sense of national pride in the mission: “It proves that China can do something that no other country has achieved in space exploration.”