When it comes to exploring space, particularly launching missions to the Moon and Planet Mars, China might have just gotten much-needed support that could propel it ahead of the U.S. space agency, NASA. 

According to a report from Time, the Chinese government has just made space exploration a government priority and allotted an $8 billion budget to carry out space missions. The space agency said this makes China the second most-funded space agency next to the U.S.

Per the report, China has made some truly significant milestones when it comes to space exploration. Early this year, the superpower was able to land its Chang’e 4 lunar lander on the far side of the Moon, a region which usually remains hidden from Earth because of the satellite’s tidally locked rotation. Once it landed, the Jade Rabbit 2 rover was able to transmit data back to Earth from the Moon’s mysterious region. 

If that’s not enough, the Chinese space agency was also able to germinate cottonseed onboard the Chang’e 4. China’s President Xi Jinping praised the agency after the mission, calling the milestones “outstanding feats” that set a model for the nation’s Communist Party. This is an impressive development for a nation that’s actually late when it comes to the advancement of space exploration. 

To date, China boasts of having the largest filled-aperture radio telescope in the world, measuring around 1,640 feet across. Like NASA, China also plans to visit Mars, something that the country has been preparing for extensively at a “space camp” in China’s Gobi Desert, a place said to have a similar landscape as that of Mars. 

At the desert, the Chinese are training would-be astronauts in an area labeled as “Mars Base 1” that’s built by the firm C-Scape. It’s like the International Space Station, except that it’s situated here on Earth. The “space base” mimics the actual living space that China presumes would also be set up on Planet Mars — one with an airlock facility, a greenhouse, a gym, living quarters, and even a control room. 

The camp also has solar-powered buggies and probes that are expected to be capable of exploring Planet Mars. China has set its sights on visiting the Red Planet next year. Aside from Mars, the Asian country also plans to send probes that can study asteroids and even explore the planets Jupiter and Uranus. China also plans to set up a sophisticated research station on the Moon’s southern pole. 

With all these grand plans, China could very well overtake the current developments of NASA. The U.S. space agency has actually acknowledged the progress being accomplished by its rival agency. 

“They have a strategic, long-term set of goals and work deliberately and systematically to achieve those goals,” Kathy Laurini, who used to be NASA’s senior advisor for Exploration and Space Operations for the past 36 years, said.