Clara Ma had never dreamed she could name a Mars rover, but this came true on Monday when she signed her name on Curiosity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The Mars Rover Curiosity is scheduled to be launched in 2011.
The 12-year-old girl, a sixth-grader from Sunflower elementary school in Lenexa, Kansas, won an essay contest to name NASA's next rover to Mars in May.
She is the only winner among over 9,000 contesters in the United States and the only Chinese American who got the honor to name a Mars rover.
"I feel very excited and honored to name the Mars rover and sign my name on it," Ma told Xinhua after her signing ceremony.
"It took me only about 10 to 20 minutes to finish my essay. I mailed the essay out in January. I never dreamed that I could win," she said, adding that "It is so wonderful, so great."
She said she has great interest and curiosity in space science, which pushed her to participate in the essay contest.
Speaking of why she chose the name "Curiosity" for the Mars rover, she said that's what space exploration is all about.
"Curiosity is an everlasting flame that burns in everyone's mind. It makes me get out of bed in the morning and wonder what surprises life will throw at me that day," Ma wrote in her essay.
"Curiosity is such a powerful force. Without it, we wouldn't be who we are today. When I was younger, I wondered, 'Why is the sky blue?', 'Why do the stars twinkle?' and I still do," she wrote.
"Curiosity is the passion that drives us through our everyday lives. We have become explorers and scientists with our need to ask questions and to wonder," the essay said.
The nationwide student essay contest designed to collect names has received more than 9,000 proposals.
"Students from every state suggested names for this rover. That's testimony to the excitement Mars missions spark in our next generation of explorers," said Mark Dahl, the mission's program executive at the NASA Headquarters in Washington.
"Many of the nominating essays were excellent and several of the names would have fit well. I am especially pleased with the choice, which recognizes something universally human and essential to science," he said, referring to Ma's works.
According to NASA, the Mars Rover Curiosity will check whether the environment in a selected landing region on Mars is favorable for supporting microbial life and preserving evidence of life.
The rover also will search for minerals that formed in the presence of water and look for several chemical building blocks of life.