Europe's ExoMars Rover Officially Named After DNA Pioneer Rosalind Franklin

Federico Mansilla
Febrero 9, 2019

"It's fitting that the robot bearing her name will search for the building blocks of life on Mars, as she did so on Earth through her work on DNA", said Alice Bunn, worldwide director of the UK Space Agency.

On Feb. 7, ESA astronaut Tim Peake with Science Minister Chris Skidmore officially announced that the name of the ExoMars rover that is going to be used in the ExoMars program will be Rosalind Franklin. In Watson's book "The Double Helix", which shaped the narrative around the discovery of the structure of DNA for decades, he painted a vituperative picture of Franklin, whom he referred to as "Rosy". "Science is in our DNA, and in everything we do at ESA", the agency's director general Jan Woerner said in the announcement.

"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.

ExoMars is a joint mission between ESA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

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The Rosalind Franklin is being developed and built by Airbus Defense and Space.

Franklin's work was used to formulate the seminal 1953 hypothesis about the structure of DNA - the molecule containing an organism's genetic code. Franklin never went further with her research. At that time, hers was the best shot of the double helix. After finishing her portion of the DNA work, Franklin led pioneering work on the tobacco mosaic and polio viruses. 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. Although Franklin's contribution to the "discovery" of DNA is now widely recognised, there remains a lingering sense that her contribution was unjustly overlooked and undervalued. This left many to believe she was not given the recognition she deserved, says BBC.

The main aims of ExoMars is to examine the geological environment on Mars and search for evidence of environments that may have once, and perhaps could still, support life. The region contains clay-rich minerals and has preserved its wet geologic history, making it a prime location for the rover to search for evidence of current and past life. Scientists said it will have a degree of "intelligence" that allows it to make some rudimentary decisions on its own. Rosalind the rover will relay its data to Earth through communication with the TGO.

And the University of Leicester in England worked on Rosalind's electronics and data processing panel.

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