Published: Sat, February 09, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

European Mars Rover Named for Crystal Scientist Rosalind Franklin

European Mars Rover Named for Crystal Scientist Rosalind Franklin

The European-Russian rover that will search for life on Mars has been named after British chemist and DNA double helix co-discoverer Rosalind Franklin.

The rover's name was selected from over 36,000 submissions from the agency's 22 member states. While she was a biophysicist at King's College London, she captured "Photo 51"- an X-ray image of a strand of DNA extracted from human calf tissue.

"This name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore". Astronaut Tim Peake has presented the new name of the ESA's Mars Rover at the Airbus factory in Stevenage where the machine is being put together, as we speak, as BBC reported.

With this new ESA rover, Rosalind Franklin will finally get to perform scientific research again, at least in spirit.

"The European Space Agency is a real asset to the work - the United Kingdom is a proud founding member and will remain committed into the future", he said.

Franklin's work was used to formulate the seminal 1953 hypothesis about the structure of DNA - the molecule containing an organism's genetic code.

"Watson and Crick never told Franklin that they had seen her materials, and they did not directly acknowledge their debt to her work when they published their classic announcement in Nature that April", the U.S. National Library of Medicine writes. Unpublished drafts of her papers show that she had determined the overall B-form of the DNA helix. Nobel Prizes can not be awarded posthumously, but it's unclear if Franklin would have been given credit at the time, anyway. Rosalind the rover will be tasked with uncovering evidence to reveal whether the now-barren world once harbored life, or indeed if it is still capable of doing so deep beneath the surface. Franklin died from ovarian cancer at the age of 37, four years before Crick, Watson and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their work on DNA. 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. Scientists said it will have a degree of "intelligence" that allows it to make some rudimentary decisions on its own.

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.

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

The University of Leicester and Teledyne e2v are working on the Raman Spectrometer with STFC RAL Space providing some of the electronics, including the data processing board.

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