Although at first glance the Mars Express mission would seem to have little in common with China's first manned space flight in October, both projects were designed to capture the public's imagination and prove that space exploration would not be left to the Americans and Russians. Whereas China has outlined ambitious plans to eventually send a man to the moon, the European Union has said it will focus its space programme on relatively inexpensive, unmanned projects. 'We think that it makes more sense both financially and scientifically to focus on unmanned missions,' said Florian Frank, a spokesman for the German Education and Research Ministry, which provided a sizeable chunk of the 300 million euros (HK$2.8 billion) that Mars Express cost. 'We aren't about to get involved in a new space race to the moon.' David Southwood, the European Space Agency's director of science, said: 'Going to Mars is a huge step for us. But not everything in the weightlessness of space is about beating the competition.' Mr Southwood pointed out that Europe and China were preparing to collaborate on a project to study the effects of the Sun on the Earth's magnetic field next year. 'We'd actually like to see China get more involved in the exploration of the solar system, not only on its own but as a partner co-operating on the international level,' he said.