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Retired basketball star Yao Ming takes on new mission as China’s ambassador to Mars

China has appointed retired basketball star Yao Ming and 10 other celebrities as “Ambassadors to Mars” to promote the nation’s first mission to Mars in 2020.

The other celebrities who will become ambassadors alongside Yao, 36 – who played for America’s Houston Rockets in the National Basketball Association – are Lang Ping, the coach of the women’s Olympic gold-medal-winning volleyball team; composer and conductor Tan Dun, guzheng player Yuan Sha, award-winning science-fiction writer Liu Cixin, members of the Chinese teenage boy band TFBOYS, and opera singers Warren Mok, Dai Yuqiang and Wei Song, Xinhua reported on Monday.

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This is the first time China has appointed an ambassador for its major space programme.

The move comes after Beijing announced in August that it planned to send a spacecraft to Mars in the summer of 2020.

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The 11 ambassadors will help publicise the Mars programme, encourage interest in science and technology among young Chinese people and also promote China’s international image.

The 2020 mission would be launched on a Long March-5 carrier rocket from the Wenchang space launch centre in southern China’s Hainan province, Xinhua reported.