Tuesday, 23 April, 2019

Europe's Next Mars Rover Is Named After a Pioneer of DNA Research

Exomars Rover Name European Mars rover named after DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin
Cary Marshall | 09 February, 2019, 19:57

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.

Astronaut Tim Peake launched a campaign in July asking citizens of ESA member states to submit name suggestions online. Some of her unpublished data, including an x-ray image that clearly revealed DNA's double helix, was shown without her consent to James Watson and Francis Crick, who were also working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.

'[The] name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore, ' said Jan Woerner, director general of the European Space Agency (ESA).

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.

"Rosalind Franklin is one of science's most influential women, and her part in the discovery of the structure of DNA was truly groundbreaking", Alice Bunn, worldwide director of the U.K. Space Agency, said in a statement.

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The mission is a joint project between the European and Russian space agencies.

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 upcoming rover will be called Rosalind Franklin, after the chemist whose work was used to determine the structure of DNA. She received a PhD from Ohio University in 1945. Franklin never went further with her research. Her work supported the hypothesis of Watson and Crick and was published third in the series of three DNA Nature articles. 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, Franklin is regarded as one of the 20th century's most overlooked scientists. At depths of two metres, the rover drill will be able to take samples of the soil and search for any evidence - past or present - of microbial life. Scientists said it will have a degree of "intelligence" that allows it to make some rudimentary decisions on its own.

The rover will relay data to Earth through the Trace Gas Orbiter, a spacecraft searching for tiny amounts of gases in the Martian atmosphere that might be linked to biological or geological activity since 2016.

What the Rosalind rover will look like on Mars.

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