China has the ability to explore Mars and it is up to the government to decide when to send a probe to land on the Red Planet's surface, a top Chinese scientist said today.
China has the capability of exploring Mars, Ye Peijian, a top scientist with the the country's lunar probe mission Chang'e-3 programme said.
China is capable of sending a probe to circle Mars and land on it, Ye said, adding that the country has no problems with tracking control and communications technology.
China's space missions have seen systematic development.
The Chang'e-3 lunar probe, a part of the second phase of the the lunar programme, soft-landed on the Moon on December 14 last year with a moon rover Yutu (also known as Jade Rabbit), which has since experienced mechanical trouble.
Ye said China improved ground stations and tackled many problems concerning control and communications especially during the second phase of its lunar programme.
"But the time to go (to Mars) will depend on the country's budget and decision," he told state-run Xinhua news agency.
The flight of 'Mangalyaan', India's maiden mission to Mars which was successfully launched in November, was watched with interest in China.
Ye Hailin, an expert on South Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, said 'Mangalyaan' should be interpreted rationally as "a great achievement" of India that also deserves applause from the rest of the world.
"Like the Chinese, Indian people have their space dreams as well. The Mars orbiter, if successful, will increase the human race's store of knowledge and change our life," Ye said.
He said preparation for the 2017 launch of China's lunar probe Chang'e-5 is going as planned. Chang'e-5, as part of China's third-phase lunar programme, is expected to bring back moon rock samples to Earth.
Ye said the Chang'e-3 mission has helped China to better understand the lunar environment and has paved the way for further explorations.
As the backup probe of Chang'e-3, Chang'e-4 should not repeat the mission, but do something more "innovative and meaningful", Ye said without elaborating.
To make sure the returning mission is a success, a Chang'e-5 test probe will be launched this year to rehearse the route, he said. Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 missions were launched in 2007 and 2010 respectively.
Launched on October 1, 2010, China's first man-made asteroid Chang'e-2 is now about 70 million km from Earth.
Mars is considered the