The baffling case of Einstein and the science fiction fan

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IT'S ALL very well persuading the most brilliant mind in the world to answer your question about space travel, but it seems you need to be a rocket scientist to understand the answer.

Sam Moskowitz, an American truck-driver and avid science fiction fan, wrote to Albert Einstein nearly 50 years ago asking whether it really was possible to travel faster than the speed of light. He had seen an article by the British astronomer Fred Hoyle which raised the possibility, and he knew this was the key to many of the science fiction stories.

Einstein answered by return of post. Unfortunately, Mr Moskowitz, who had no formal education, was so baffled by the reply he asked Hoyle what on earth Einstein meant. But, according to Hoyle: "In general relativity, it is always possible to choose a system of co-ordinates for a particles observer so that this system agrees with the co-ordinates of special relativity."

Understandably, that reply only intensified the mystery for Mr Moskowitz. But he kept the letters. Now all three letters - a carbon copy of Mr Moskowitz's letter to Einstein and the replies - are expected to fetch pounds 10,000 or more tomorrow at auction in Sotheby's, New York.

Mr Moskowitz had devoted his life to researching science fiction novels and their authors and eventually left truck-driving to become the first person to teach a university degree class in the subject.

Jerry Weist, of Sotheby's, called the letters a fascinating insight into the minds of two of the greatest 20th-century scientific minds, and praised Mr Moskowitz. "Sam's research was impeccable and he was an expert on the genre," he said.