When a five-year-old boy asked Dr.Geoffrey Landis if he could be his traveling companion, he picked the right man.
"I want to go to Mars with you," the Chinese boy said to Dr. Landis of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), during his lecture on Mars and Space Exploration in Beijing.
The program manager with NASA arrived in China on Sept. 6 to give lectures in Beijing and Chengdu at the invitation of Science Fiction World, a Chinese science fiction journal.
Dr. Landis told his audience that he believed people could realize the dream of traveling to Mars in no more than 20 years, though there are still no plans for a manned Mars mission.
The US was planning to send robots to Mars in 2003, said Landis,who is also a famous science fiction writer. He hoped his young Chinese readers would contribute a name for the robots during thistour.
A thirst for knowledge about space exploration swept China withthe launch of the Shenzhou spacecraft in March. Chinese scientistsare also researching the feasibility of a manned moon flight.
In his slide show, Dr. Landis spoke about Mars and America's Pathfinder expedition in which he participated.
He told the audience that Sojourner, the first remote-control vehicle ever run on another planet, was named by an American schoolgirl.
The American-made Sojourner landed on Mars in 1997 and collected a lot of data on the energy, rocks and features of the planet.
Landis said that before the lecture he had collected over a dozen English names for the robots from the Chinese audience, including some which were very interesting, such as Universal Post,Son of Mars and Cockroach.
A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a master's degree in electronic engineering, Dr. Landis was awarded a doctorate in solid physics in 1989. His science fiction stories have been published in Science Fiction World.