Published: Sat, February 09, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

Europe's ExoMars Rover Officially Named After DNA Pioneer Rosalind Franklin

Europe's ExoMars Rover Officially Named After DNA Pioneer Rosalind Franklin

On Feb. 7, ESA astronaut Tim Peake with Science Minister Chris Skidmore officially announced that the name of the ExoMars rover that is going to be used in the ExoMars program will be Rosalind Franklin. (The U.K. was given the task of naming the vehicle because, according to the BBC, the country has "essentially. put [the] most money into the rover.") As the first European rover to roll across the surface of Mars, the Rosalind Franklin will drill two meters into the planet to sample and analyze its soil, with the goal of discovering whether past Martian environments could have supported life.

The European-Russian rover that will search for life on Mars has been named after British chemist and DNA double helix co-discoverer Rosalind Franklin.

In the search for signs of life, a rover headed to Mars in 2020 will bear the name of a woman who helped unravel the mysteries of DNA here on Earth.

"This name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore", ESA Director General Jan Woerner said.

Rendering of the Rosalind rover with extended arm against a desolate Martian surface
What the Rosalind rover will look like on Mars. Image ESA ATG medialab

"Although we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving ESA".

In addition to the core sampler, the Rosalind Franklin carries the Water Ice and Subsurface Deposit Information on Mars (WISDOM), Infrared Spectrometer for ExoMars (ISEM), Mars Multispectral Imager for Subsurface Studies (Ma-Miss), the Close-Up Imager (CLUPI), and the Pasteur Instrument Suite.

The UK-built ExoMars robot that will set out to find evidence of life on Mars has been named after British scientist Rosalind Franklin.

The rover is under development in the UK. She went to Newnham College, Cambridge in 1938 and passed her finals in 1941, but was only awarded a degree titular as women were not entitled to degrees at that time. Some of her unpublished data, including an x-ray image that clearly revealed DNA's double helix, was shown without her consent to James Watson and Francis Crick, who were also working to pin down the molecular structure of DNA. Her data was a part of the data used to formulate Crick and Watson's 1953 hypothesis regarding the structure of DNA. Several months later on March 19, 2021, the rover will, with any luck, touch down on the Oxia Planum plain on the surface of Mars. Because she died in 1958, aged 37, she never received the recognition given to her male peers for deciphering the DNA. Franklin was unable to receive the prize as Nobel Prizes can not be awarded posthumously, but she received no mention in the acceptance speeches.

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