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Future Mars Rover Named for DNA Pioneer Rosalind Franklin

09 February 2019

Franklin captured structural images of substances like viruses and coal, as well as the crucial biological compounds DNA and RNA, which both carry genetic information. Dr. Rosalind Franklin was a London-born biologist, physicist, chemist and X-ray crystallographer.

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.

Rosalind Franklin the Mars rover is scheduled to explore the Red Planet in 2021.

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The European Space Agency (ESA) announced today (Feb. 7) that its next Mars rover will be named for Rosalind Franklin, the late British scientist, who was behind the discovery of DNA's double-helix structure. Franklin codiscovered DNA's double-helix structure, and her namesake rover will search Mars for signs of life. "Science is in our DNA, and in everything we do at ESA", the agency's director general Jan Woerner said in the announcement. European Space Agency astronaut Time Peake stood alongside Skidmore at the event, which was held in the "Mars Yard" testing ground at Airbus Defence and Space's facilities in Stevenage, England. By shooting X-rays at a DNA crystal and measuring the resulting image, Franklin produced some key data that let researchers James Watson and Francis Crick discover the shape of the molecule.

The UK Space Agency is the second largest European contributor to the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars mission, having invested €287 million in the mission and £14 million on the instruments.

Once safely on Mars, the solar-powered rover has the potential to make transformative discoveries that could answer many longstanding questions surrounding the nature of the Red Planet. Watson and Crick used their own data and Franklin's photograph to create a model for the building blocks of life. Furthermore, archives also revealed in 2008 that she was not even nominated. Franklin was unable to receive the prize as Nobel Prizes can not be awarded posthumously, but she received no mention in the acceptance speeches. 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. Her contribution was not recognised in many science books until the 1990s. 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.

Future Mars Rover Named for DNA Pioneer Rosalind Franklin