Rover that will search for life on Mars named after Rosalind Franklin

Katie Ramirez
February 9, 2019

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that its ExoMars rover will be named in honour of British chemist Rosalind Franklin.

"This is a big moment for British science", science minister Skidmore said. She also made key contributions to the study of coal, graphite, and viruses. The six-wheeled rover is expected to drill into the surface of Mars in its search for past and present alien life on Mars.

Over a third of the science instruments used in the ExoMars mission are led by women.

United Kingdom engineers finished building the European space explorer at a delicate political time. The name was selected by a panel of experts from a list of names submitted by members of the public after a naming competition was opened last July and was selected out of almost 36,000 responses. It was revealed by ESA astronaut Tim Peake on February 7 at the facility in England where the rover is being constructed. "With it, we are building on our European heritage in robotic exploration, and at the same time devising new technologies". "Science is in our DNA, and in everything we do at ESA", the agency's director general Jan Woerner said in the announcement. 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. "ExoMars is the culmination of our industry experience over the last half a century where we have worked alongside academia and agencies to push the boundaries in space both for satellites and missions to other planets". It's slated to arrive in March 2021, and set to explore an area near the Red Planet's equator called Oxia Planum.

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The rover is under development in the UK. Some of her unpublished data, including an x-ray image that clearly revealed DNA's double helix, was shown without her consent to James Watson and Francis Crick, who were also working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. Franklin never went further with her research. Franklin's work was integral to their discovery of the correct structure of DNA. At that time, hers was the best shot of the double helix. Her work supported the hypothesis of Watson and Crick and was published third in the series of three DNA Nature articles. Franklin, who had died of ovarian cancer in 1958 at the age of 37, was not included in the honor, as Nobel prizes are not awarded posthumously. Nobel Prizes can not be awarded posthumously, but it's unclear if Franklin would have been given credit at the time, anyway. Today, despite being credited for her contribution to the discovery of DNA, many still find that her contribution was rather overlooked and undervalued. This left many to believe she was not given the recognition she deserved, says BBC. The 2020 mission of the ExoMars program will deliver a European rover and a Russian surface platform to the surface of Mars.

The rover will roam around the Martian surface by using electrical power generated from its solar arrays. Scientists said it will have a degree of "intelligence" that allows it to make some rudimentary decisions on its own.

The data on board Rosalind will be beamed up to the Trace Gas Orbiter overhead, created to search for tiny amounts of gases in the Martian atmosphere that might be linked to biological or geological activity.

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

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