Science

British-Built Mars Rover Name Revealed

British-Built Mars Rover Name Revealed

The British-built Mars rover scheduled to be launched in 2020 has been named after scientist Rosalind Franklin.

"This rover will scout the Martian surface equipped with next-generation instruments - a fully fledged automated laboratory on Mars", ESA astronaut Tim Peake, who is from the United Kingdom, said during the announcement. "With it, we are building on our European heritage in robotic exploration, and at the same time devising new technologies". 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".

The ExoMars mission will launch in summer 2020 from the Roscosmos site in Kazakhstan, where current astronaut missions launch to the International Space Station. (The U.K. was given the task of naming the vehicle because, according to the BBC, the country has "essentially. put [the] most money into the rover.") As the first European rover to roll across the surface of Mars, the Rosalind Franklin will drill two meters into the planet to sample and analyze its soil, with the goal of discovering whether past Martian environments could have supported life. "Science is in our DNA, and in everything we do at ESA", the agency's director general Jan Woerner said in the announcement. It will likely land in Oxia Planum, a lowland region just north of Mars's equator. 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. Franklin herself was excluded, even though her work was key to the discovery. The upcoming rover will be called Rosalind Franklin, after the chemist whose work was used to determine the structure of DNA.

Today, Franklin is regarded as one of the 20th century's most overlooked scientists. Unpublished drafts of her papers show that she had determined the overall B-form of the DNA helix.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.




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

She died of cancer at the age of 37 in 1958. Scientists said it will have a degree of "intelligence" that allows it to make some rudimentary decisions on its own.

And the University of Leicester in England worked on Rosalind's electronics and data processing panel.