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UK-built Mars rover named after British scientist Rosalind Franklin

09 February 2019

After whittling down thousands of suggestions, ESA has made a decision to name its future Mars rover after the British chemist and x-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin.

The UK Space Agency announced the official name of the ExoMars rover on Thursday after running a naming contest in 2018. 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.

Cambridge-educated Franklin "helped us understand life on Earth and now her namesake will do the same on Mars", UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore said at the unveiling.

"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. 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 was an English scientist best known for groundbreaking work on the molecular structure of DNA. She received a PhD from Ohio University in 1945.

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. After finishing her portion of the DNA work, Franklin led pioneering work on the tobacco mosaic and polio viruses.

Today, Franklin is regarded as one of the 20th century's most overlooked scientists. 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. This left many to believe she was not given the recognition she deserved, says BBC.

The rover is part of the ExoMars programme, a joint endeavour between ESA and the Russian State Space Corporation, Roscosmos. It will also assist in preparing for other robotic missions, including a Mars Sample Return mission, and possible future human exploration.

The data on board Rosalind will be beamed up to the Trace Gas Orbiter overhead, created to search for tiny amounts of gases in the Martian atmosphere that might be linked to biological or geological activity.

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

UK-built Mars rover named after British scientist Rosalind Franklin