European Mars Rover Named for Crystal Scientist Rosalind Franklin

The rover comes with a drill that should boost the chances of finding life

The rover comes with a drill that should boost the chances of finding life

Rosalind Franklin was selected for her contributions to our understanding of the molecular structure of DNA.

Franklin was a biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer.

The UK Space Agency announced the official name of the ExoMars rover on Thursday after running a naming contest in 2018.

"There were many very colourful entries - Rover McRoverface I think at one point was one of the most popular names, but of course I think Rosalind Franklin is a much more fitting tribute to a great British scientist", Maj Peake added.

In the memory of the DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin, the UK-made ESA's Mars Rover that would soon search for alien life on Mars would bear her name. "Science is in our DNA, and in everything we do at ESA", said Johann-Dietrich "Jan" Wörner, Director General of the European Space Agency, during the naming ceremony.

ExoMars is a joint mission between ESA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos. If it successfully lands - never an easy feat with Mars' strong gravity and thin atmosphere - the Franklin rover would be Europe's first presence on the Red Planet's surface.

Alice Bunn, global director at the UK Space Agency, said: "Rosalind Franklin is one of science's most influential women, and her part in the discovery of the structure of DNA was truly ground-breaking".

The rover was built by the British-based defence and space unit of the pan-European Airbus corporation.

In terms of a landing spot, ESA has already picked out a site called Oxia Planum near the planet's equator, an area once water-rich, giving hope that remnants of ancient life could have existed there. The ambition is for the United Kingdom be the world's most innovative economy - and the development of the ExoMars rover for the United Kingdom is a part of this ambition.

It's said that when American scientist James Watson saw Franklin's X-ray crystallography image of DNA, he immediately realized he and English scientist Francis Crick were right about its double-helix structure and published their findings. Her data was a part of the data used to formulate Crick and Watson's 1953 hypothesis regarding the structure of DNA.

Franklin's contribution to their research remained largely overlooked in science books until the 1990s. Nobel Prizes can not be awarded posthumously, but it's unclear if Franklin would have been given credit at the time, anyway. She died quite young at the age of 37 in 1958. It's main aim would be to examine the surface of Mars for evidence of past life-supporting environments.

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