Published: Sat, February 09, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

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

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

The European Space Agency is sending a rover to Mars next year, and they've just decided on a name for it.

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. 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.

Johann-Dietrich "Jan" Wörner Director General, European Space Agency said: "This name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore". 'Science is in our DNA and in everything we do at ESA.

"In the past year of Rosalind's life, I remember visiting her in hospital on the day when she was excited by the news of the [Soviet Sputnik satellite]-the very beginning of space exploration", Franklin's sister, Jenifer Glynn, told BBC.

ExoMars is a joint mission from the European Space Agency and Russian space agency Roscosmos.

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Being that the rover-built at the Airbus factory in Stevenage, England-will head to Mars in 2020 to search for life, it's fitting that the machinery is named after the scientist who helped discover the shape of what life's made of. Franklin's work was integral to their discovery of the correct structure of DNA. She received a PhD from Ohio University in 1945. 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. Although it's sometimes reported that she was passed over for the prize due to her gender, there is another explanation; the Nobel rules prohibit posthumous awards, and Franklin's career was cut short by ovarian cancer four years earlier in 1958. Today, despite being credited for her contribution to the discovery of DNA, many still find that her contribution was rather overlooked and undervalued. Her contribution was not recognised in many science books until the 1990s. 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 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.

An artist's depiction of the Rosalind Franklin rover, which Europe plans to place on the Martian surface in March 2021.

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.

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