UK-built Mars rover named after scientist Rosalind Franklin | AP business

Rosalind Franklin looking through a microscope

The European Space Agency is sending a rover to Mars next year, and they've just decided on a name for it.

If everything goes as planned, ESA's "Rosalind Franklin" Mars Rover will launch towards Mars next year, and it would reach Red Planet in 2021. She was the subject of a 2013 Google Doodle that highlighted her contributions to our understanding of the molecular makeup of DNA and RNA. Once on the surface of the Red Planet, the Rosalind Franklin rover will be tasked with searching for the building blocks of life.

United Kingdom engineers finished building the European space explorer at a delicate political time. The submissions were part of a competition launched by the UK Space Agency in July previous year.

More than 36,000 people submitted ideas in the competition, which were narrowed down by a panel of experts. "With it, we are building on our European heritage in robotic exploration, and at the same time devising new technologies".

"This name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore", ESA director general Jan Wörner said in a statement. "Science is in our DNA, and in everything we do at ESA".

British astronaut Tim Peake poses with a working prototype of the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars Rover following its naming ceremony at the Airbus Defence and Space facility in Stevenage, February 7, 2019.

Rendering of the Rosalind rover with extended arm against a desolate Martian surface
What the Rosalind rover will look like on Mars. Image ESA ATG medialab

The rover is under development in the UK. Her images of crystallized DNA fibers confirmed theories about DNA's double-helix structure.

"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. Now called Rosalind Franklin, it is named after the scientist and discoverer of the structure of the DNA. Her data was a part of the data used to formulate Crick and Watson's 1953 hypothesis regarding the structure of DNA. At that time, hers was the best shot of the double helix. Franklin was unable to receive the prize as Nobel Prizes can not be awarded posthumously, but she received no mention in the acceptance speeches. Today, despite being credited for her contribution to the discovery of DNA, many still find that her contribution was rather overlooked and undervalued. The 2020 mission of the ExoMars program will deliver a European rover and a Russian surface platform to the surface of Mars.

It's somewhat poetic, then, that a rover dedicated to finding life would be named after someone whose research was used to learn about the blueprint of life.

It will use solar power to drive around with the help of optic sensors. The rover's software will have a degree of "intelligence" and autonomy to make certain decisions on the ground and will navigate using optical 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.

What the Rosalind rover will look like on Mars.

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