President Xi Jinping wants China to become a “space flight superpower” -- with ambitious plans including visiting Mars and even searching for extraterrestrial life.

So how does China’s ambitious space program stack up?

Step by step

China’s space program has come a long way in just the past two decades -- especially when you consider it only sent someone to space for the first time in 2003.

Since then, 11 taikonauts -- Chinese astronauts -- have been sent into orbit.

Then in 2013, it achieved another important goal: It put a rover on the Moon, the first time that any country had done so for close to forty years.

China’s Jade Rabbit rover touched down on the moon in December 2013. (Picture: SCMP)

By the end of this year, it plans to become the first country to send a probe to the far side of the Moon -- a huge leap forward, given that not even the US has been able to achieve such a task.

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

The country’s first space station, the Tiangong-1 -- launched in 2011 -- was incinerated when it re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere after authorities lost contact with it.

 ​But China hasn’t let this incident slow them down.

By 2022 they plan to send a manned space station into orbit, which is significant because the International Space Station -- which China is barred from being able to use by the US -- will have to be retired (or at least retrofitted) by 2028. That could mean more countries will have to rely on China for space research.

Out of this world

China also has some pretty lofty space plans for the coming decades, culminating with a manned moon landing by 2036.

In the meantime, it’s looking towards the Red Planet -- with plans to send a rover to Mars by 2020 (as well as unmanned probes to Jupiter in 2036 and to Uranus in 2046).

But one of the country’s most interesting space operations is actually here on Earth.

This massive radio telescope in Guizhou province will help search for extraterrestrial life. (Picture: SCMP)

Deep in rural Guizhou Province in southwestern China, the country has built the world's largest radio telescope, a massive 500-meter device -- officially known as the Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (or FAST) -- to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.

Despite its grand ambitions, it’s worth pointing out that China’s space budget is still only about one-tenth the size of the US -- but at the very least, industry watchers say a “leveling of the outer space playing field” is in the works.