European Mars rover named after DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin

New Mars rover named after DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced today that the upcoming rover in its ExoMars mission will be named after the late scientist Rosalind Franklin. 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.

"This name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore", ESA director general Jan Wörner said in a statement.

Cambridge-educated Franklin "helped us understand life on Earth and now her namesake will do the same on Mars", UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore said at the unveiling.

With this new ESA rover, Rosalind Franklin will finally get to perform scientific research again, at least in spirit.

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ExoMars is a joint mission between ESA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos. A panel of experts selected the name and revealed it at a ceremony at the Airbus Defence and Space facility in Stevenage, United Kingdom, where engineers now are building the rover. Now called Rosalind Franklin, it is named after the scientist and discoverer of the structure of the DNA. She received a PhD from Ohio University in 1945. Franklin herself was excluded, even though her work was key to the discovery. Unpublished drafts of her papers show that she had determined the overall B-form of the DNA helix. After finishing her portion of the DNA work, Franklin led pioneering work on the tobacco mosaic and polio viruses.

Part of the DNA data that she gathered was used to create Crick and Watson's hypothesis on DNA structure, but she was not able to receive the Nobel Prize with them as she had already died of ovarian cancer when they received it in 1962. Nobel Prizes can not be awarded posthumously, but it's unclear if Franklin would have been given credit at the time, anyway. This left many to believe she was not given the recognition she deserved, says BBC. Data from the mission will also provide invaluable input for broader studies of Martian geochemistry, environmental science and exobiology - the search for evidence of life on other planets. It's main aim would be to examine the surface of Mars for evidence of past life-supporting environments. Scientists said it will have a degree of "intelligence" that allows it to make some rudimentary decisions on its own.

Once on the surface of Mars, the Rosalind Franklin will begin science operations.

Data will be sent up to the ESA's orbiting Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft, which is hunting for both geological and biological signs of activity by measuring gasses in the Martian atmosphere.

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