Wan Weixing, chief scientist of China’s Mars exploration program, died from an unspecified illness on Wednesday night in Beijing. He was 61.

The secretariat of the third session of the 13th National People’s Congress said in a statement on Thursday that it mourns the passing of Wan, who was also a member of the 13th NPC Standing Committee, the 14th Central Committee of the Jiu San Society, a non-Communist political party, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Focused on space sciences and planetary physics, Wan worked at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Geology and Geophysics and was called founder of the country’s research on planetary physics.

According to information from the academy, Wan studied space physics at Wuhan University in Hubei province from 1978 to 1982 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. He earned a master’s degree in the same field in 1984 from the academy and then a doctorate in 1990.

The country’s first Mars mission, Tianwen 1, is expected to take place in the coming months.