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Yao Ming is now a Chinese ambassador to Mars

The ex-NBA star and 10 other Chinese luminaries will become martian ambassadors ahead of China's Mars 2020 mission.

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Jim Rogash, Getty Images

Retired basketball star Yao Ming's new role is simply out of this world.

The former Houston Rockets Centre is to become China's new "Ambassador to Mars," according to the South China Morning Post.

It's not yet known whether China's most famous athlete may be expected to team up with the Looney Tunes to defeat aliens in a basketball tournament. For now, Ming's main task is to help publicize China's plan to send a spacecraft to Mars by 2020.

China's Mars 2020 mission, first announced earlier this year, is expected to carry a solar-powered probe to the surface of the red planet. It will use a Chinese-made Long March-5 rocket to launch from the Wenchang Space Centre in China's Hainan province.

Yao will be joined in his ambassadorial duties by 10 other Chinese luminaries, including science-fiction writer Liu Cixin, teenage boy band TFBOYS and women's Olympic gold-medal-winning volleyball team coach Lang Ping.

China isn't the only one with its eyes on Mars. Elon Musk late last month outlined his plan to colonize the planet, saying he envisions self-sustaining human civilisations on Mars in the next 40-100 years.