Future Mars Rover Named for DNA Pioneer Rosalind Franklin

Rodiano Bonacci
Febbraio 9, 2019

The agency chose to commemorate Franklin for her work as an X-ray crystallographer during the 1940s and '50s.

The name was revealed by astronaut Tim Peake and science minister Chris Skidmore at an event in Stevenage on Thursday as part of a public competition launched in July a year ago.

In order to name the Franklin rover, which is part of the ExoMars series of missions and will succeed a failed lander called Schiaparelli, ESA pored through suggestions from 36,000 people. Now, ESA honored Rosalind Franklin by naming its next Mars Rover after her.

Maj Peake said: "It's an important name because Rosalind Franklin was one of the great British scientists who unlocked the secrets of human life in terms of understanding DNA and the double helix, and ExoMars is so exciting because we're searching for life and the possibility that life evolved on Mars".

According to Skidmore, the name is fitting for the rover, as she helped us understand life on Earth, and now the rover will help us do the same on Mars.

The new rover will try to answer that question by drilling two metres into the hot planet's surface to sample and analyse the soil.

"This name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore".

"Although we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving ESA". It will likely land in Oxia Planum, a lowland region just north of Mars's equator.

ExoMars is a joint mission between ESA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos. European Space Agency astronaut Time Peake stood alongside Skidmore at the event, which was held in the "Mars Yard" testing ground at Airbus Defence and Space's facilities in Stevenage, England.

The rover is under development in the UK. Whilst Dr. Franklin contributed greatly to a number of disciplines, she is best known for her part in unraveling the double helix structure of our DNA.

"Watson and Crick never told Franklin that they had seen her materials, and they did not directly acknowledge their debt to her work when they published their classic announcement in Nature that April", the U.S. National Library of Medicine writes. Nobel Prizes can not be awarded posthumously, but it's unclear if Franklin would have been given credit at the time, anyway. She died in 1958, at the age of 37. This left many to believe she was not given the recognition she deserved, says BBC.

It's somewhat poetic, then, that a rover dedicated to finding life would be named after someone whose research was used to learn about the blueprint of life.

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