Friday, 22 February, 2019


A Mars rover is named after pioneering DNA 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 Credit Dan Kitwood
Kristine Garrett | 09 February, 2019, 19:57

The British built rover that will roam over the surface of Mars in 2021 has been named after the female scientist who co-discovered the structure of DNA.

"This rover will scout the Martian surface equipped with next-generation instruments - a fully-fledged automated laboratory on Mars", Peake said. "With it, we are building on our European heritage in robotic exploration, and at the same time devising new technologies". Her images of crystallized DNA fibers confirmed theories about DNA's double-helix structure.

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. Now, ESA honored Rosalind Franklin by naming its next Mars Rover after her. It's main aim would be to examine the surface of Mars for evidence of past life-supporting environments.

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

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. A panel of experts selected the name and revealed it at a ceremony at the Airbus Defence and Space facility in Stevenage, United Kingdom, where engineers now are building the rover.

James Watson and Francis Crick used her research without permission and with little credit when publishing their model of the structure of DNA in 1953. She studied physical chemistry at Newnham College, one of only two women's colleges at Cambridge University, and subsequently spent several years studying the micro-structures of different types of coals and carbons. 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. At that time, hers was the best shot of the double helix. 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.

The rover is part of the ExoMars programme, a joint endeavour between ESA and the Russian State Space Corporation, Roscosmos.

It will use solar power to drive around with the help of optic sensors.

Data will be sent up to the ESA's orbiting Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft, which is hunting for both geological and biological signs of activity by measuring gasses in the Martian atmosphere.

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