The UK’s next mission to Mars is to be named after the British Jewish chemist whose pioneering work led to the discovery of DNA.
Astronaut Tim Peake unveiled the Mars rover on Thursday and announced that it will be named after Rosalind Franklin, a British biophysicist and X-ray crystallographer who made vital discoveries in the molecular properties of DNA, RNA, viruses such as polio, tobacco, coal and graphite.
Born in Notting Hill to Jewish parents in 1920, Franklin is best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA while at King’s College London.
These led to the discovery of the DNA double helix for which James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Watkins shared the Nobel Prize in 1962. She died of ovarian cancer four years earlier, aged 37.
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) February 7, 2019
Peake unveiled the name at the Airbus factory in Stevenage where the six-wheeled robotic vehicle is being assembled, as scientists hope to drill down into the surface of the ‘red planet’ looking for evidence of life, past or present.
“In the last year of Rosalind’s life, I remember visiting her in hospital on the day when she was excited by the news of the [Soviet Sputnik satellite] – the very beginning of space exploration,” her sister Jennifer said on Thursday.
“She could never have imagined that over 60 years later there would be a rover sent to Mars bearing her name, but somehow that makes this project even more special.”
Franklin was chosen by a UK-led panel who sifted through 35,844 suggestions.
Dr Sue Horne, the head space exploration at UK Space Agency, said: “When we got down to the short shortlist – it was the obvious choice. It ticks all the boxes.”
Photos from this morning's event at @AirbusSpace in Stevenage, UK, where UK Science Minister @CSkidmoreUK and @astro_timpeake revealed Rosalind Franklin as the name chosen for the @ESA_MarsRover #ScienceAtESA
More images: https://t.co/TkbVI7KeIt pic.twitter.com/WGyQoLQXmM
— ESA (@esa) February 7, 2019