UK’s new Mars rover

A British-made rover that will set off for Mars next year in search for signs of life was named after DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin.

Background

The European Space Agency is an intergovernmental organisation of 22-member states dedicated to the exploration of space. ESA's space flight programme includes human spaceflight (mainly through participation in the International Space Station program); the launch and operation of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon

Rosalind Elsie Franklin was a British chemist and X-ray crystallographer who made contributions to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses, coal, and graphite. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were largely recognised posthumously.

Analysis

U.K. astronaut Tim Peake revealed the name of the first European scavenger of the Red Planet at the Airbus factory just north of London where it was built.

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

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

“Just as Rosalind Franklin overcame many obstacles during her career, I hope ‘Rosalind the Rover’ will successfully persevere in this exciting adventure, inspiring generations of female scientists and engineers to come,” said Skidmore.

Franklin’s contribution to the research of DNA, RNA and graphite remained largely overlooked in science books until the 1990s.

The new rover is planned to land on Mars in 2021 as part of the ExoMars program, which is being conducted jointly by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos. It follows in the tracks of three similar missions conducted by the United States.

The six-wheeler will be “looking for traces of life beyond Earth,” said ESA human and robotic exploration director David Parker.

Assessment

Our assessment is that space agencies around the world are now aggressively looking to establish presence on Mars after the entry of private space companies like SpaceX. We believe that the new Mars rover is named after an inspirational and path breaking scientist and it will help us explore the planet in a better way.