ESA Mars rover named after Rosalind Franklin, brilliant DNA pioneer

09 February, 2019, 19:57 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption Take a closer look at what the rover will look like

The European Space Agency (ESA) has named its next Mars rover, due to touch down on the Red Planet in March 2021, in honor of British scientist Rosalind Franklin, whose research was crucial to scientists' determining the structure of DNA. 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".

"This name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore", said ESA Director General Jan Woerner in a press release. 'Science is in our DNA and in everything we do at ESA.

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

Franklin is best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA. 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. Furthermore, archives also revealed in 2008 that she was not even nominated. After finishing her portion of the DNA work, Franklin led pioneering work on the tobacco mosaic and polio viruses. Today, despite being credited for her contribution to the discovery of DNA, many still find that her contribution was rather overlooked and undervalued. Nobel Prizes can not be awarded posthumously, but it's unclear if Franklin would have been given credit at the time, anyway.

Franklin died of ovarian cancer in 1958, at age 37, without receiving the public recognition for her work in DNA that would be heaped on her male peers.

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

The rover was built in the United Kingdom and is created to search for traces of habitability and of life itself by roaming around on the Martian surface and drilling within the top 6.5 feet (2 meters) of the planet's surface.

The rover will roam around the Martian surface by using electrical power generated from its solar arrays.

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. Rosalind the rover will relay its data to Earth through communication with the TGO.

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