Only hours after a US spacecraft carrying a robotic explorer Spirit rover landed on Mars, Sun Weigang, director of the Space Department of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, was quoted as saying that, although studies of Mars will intensify, a Chinese exploration is still years away.

"We have fixed our eyes on deep space… and we are launching a lunar exploration this year, but we don't have a specific plan for a Mars mission right now," said Sun. "China has other important things to do–including further implementing its manned space program–before it is ready to kick off a Mars effort."

"China may have a carrier rocket to blast off a Mars probe, but the most challenging work is to develop monitoring and control systems that can track and control the actions of a possible Mars probe," said Liu Zhenxing, a researcher with the Centre for Space Science and Applied Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Liu had said earlier that China would launch a fly-by probe to Mars in 2020. But the China National Space Administration ruled out that the country had such a timetable, despite Liu having gone so far as to list three stages for China's Mars expedition: orbiting, landing and returning from Mars.

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