One of China's premier scientists on Sunday announced that China will launch a space rover to Mars sometime in 2020. If successful, it will be the country's first landing mission on another planet.

During the opening address of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing yesterday, China's lunar exploration program's chief designer Wu Weiren told members of the audience that sending a probe to Mars was the next logical step after the success of their recent moon landing, which took place in December of last year.

"Over the past 60 years, we've made a lot of achievements, but there is still a large distance from the world space powers. We must speed up our pace," said Weiren. "Next year, we will launch a Mars probe, which will orbit around the Mars, land on it and probe it."

In addition to an intended Mars mission, Weiren also announced that China's National Space Administration (CNSA) will send another probe to the Moon, which will take samples from the surface and send them back to Earth for observation and testing.

Reports surfaced in November that Chinese scientists selected two preliminary areas on Mars for possible rover landings in an attempt to lay some groundwork for a possible launch.

News of the proposed mission also came in the wake of the opening of a Mars simulation base in China's Quinhai Province on Friday, which was created with the intention of drawing the country's younger demographic to space exploration.

The Chinese state-run Global Times reported that the base, approximately 53,330 square meters in size, cost an estimated $22.3 million in construction. The project began in June of last year and was completed a few months later.

Located in the province's Qaidam Basin, the area, which bears similar coloring to the Red Planet, is rocky in terrain and contains an arid climate — a few of the many reasons why the site was chosen for the base, according to project founder Gao Junling.

The move to spur interest in China's space program is part of a longer, ongoing effort, compounded by the fact that China didn't enter the space race, dominated primarily by the United States and Russia, until 1970.

Significant advances have been made within the past two decades, starting with the launch of China's first lunar orbiter, Chang'e 1, in 2007. A few years later, the country launched Yutu 1, its first-ever space rover, onto the surface of the moon in 2013. 

The mission, named Chang'e 3, was followed by a second rover and probe, Yutu 2, which landed on the far side of the moon last year — the first time a landing of that kind has ever been completed.

This isn't the first time China has attempted to send a spacecraft to Mars. In 2011, CNSA sent an orbiter named Yinghuo-1 to the Red Planet via the aid of Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission but was ultimately unsuccessful when it failed to leave the Earth's orbit.