Chinese scientists have begun drilling a 10,000-meter (32,808 feet) hole into the Earth’s crust, as the world’s second largest economy explores new frontiers above and below the planet’s surface. Drilling for what is set to be China’s deepest ever borehole began in the country’s oil-rich Xinjiang region on Tuesday, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Earlier that morning, China sent its first civilian astronaut into space from the Gobi Desert. The narrow shaft into the ground will penetrate more than 10 continental strata, or layers of rock, according to the report, and reach the cretaceous system in the Earth’s crust, which features rock dating back some 145 million years. “The construction difficulty of the drilling project can be compared to a big truck driving on two thin steel cables,” Sun Jinsheng, a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told Xinhua. President Xi Jinping called for greater progress in deep Earth exploration in a speech addressing some of the nation’s leading scientists in 2021. Such work can identify mineral and energy resources and help assess the risks of environmental disasters, such as earthquakes and volcano eruptions.