New British-made Mars rover named after unsung DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin

  • New British-made Mars rover named after unsung DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin

New British-made Mars rover named after unsung DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin

In the memory of the DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin, the UK-made ESA's Mars Rover that would soon search for alien life on Mars would bear her name.

The brilliant, but long-unrecognised, 20th century British scientist's name was selected with the help of a public competition in which almost 36,000 took part. 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.

The name was revealed this morning by Science Minister Chris Skidmore and British European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Tim Peake in the "Mars Yard" at Airbus Defence and Space UK in Stevenage, where the rover is being built.

"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.

The six-wheeler will be looking for traces of life beyond Earth

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. "With it, we are building on our European heritage in robotic exploration, and at the same time devising new technologies".

Rosalind Franklin contributed a lot more to science, in particular discovering the structure of several viruses. When she graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge in 1941, she was only given a degree titular because women were not entitled to getting degrees at the time, but she did receive her PhD from Ohio University in 1945. In 1953, Franklin used the then-new field of x-ray crystallography to image crystals 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". Franklin never went further with her research.

Crick, Watson, and Maurice Wilkins received the 1962 Nobel Prize for their work, but since Franklin died of cancer in 1958 at the age of 37, she could not be considered for the award. It would be unfair, however, to reduce Franklin's legacy to that of a slighted woman thwarted by sexism and an untimely death.

Dr. Franklin was instrumental in advancing our understanding of the building blocks of life, and so it is only appropriate that a rover bearing her name would hunt for evidence of life existing beyond the atmospheric confines of our Blue Marble.