A panel of experts has chosen Rosalind Franklin as the name for the European Space Agency's (ESA)'s upcoming Mars rover, which is currently expected to begin exploring the Red Planet in 2021. Rosalind the rover will be tasked with uncovering evidence to reveal whether the now-barren world once harbored life, or indeed if it is still capable of doing so deep beneath the surface.
The rover is the second element of the joint ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars program. The first element of the mission, the Trace Gas Orbiter, has been scanning the Martian atmosphere since 2016, and will be used to relay commands and data transfers between the rover and its handlers back on Earth.
Once safely on Mars, the solar-powered rover has the potential to make transformative discoveries that could answer many longstanding questions surrounding the nature of the Red Planet. It is effectively a mobile laboratory stuffed with an advanced suite of instruments that, with the addition of a handy drill, will allow it to examine both the surface and subsurface of the barren world.
In July 2018 the UK Space Agency launched an open competition for residents of ESA member states, allowing the public to submit potential names for the upcoming rover. A panel of experts then selected the winner from a shortlist taken from the 36,000 responses.
The naming ceremony took place earlier today at Airbus Defence and Space's "Mars Yard" in Stevenage, UK, where the rover is being built and tested.
The chosen name couldn't be more fitting. Dr. Rosalind Franklin was a London-born biologist, physicist, chemist and X-ray crystallographer. Whilst Dr. Franklin contributed greatly to a number of disciplines, she is best known for her part in unraveling the double helix structure of our DNA.
Dr. Franklin was instrumental in advancing our understanding of the building blocks of life, and so it is only appropriate that a rover bearing her name would hunt for evidence of life existing beyond the atmospheric confines of our Blue Marble.
"This name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore. Science is in our DNA, and in everything we do at ESA," said Johann-Dietrich "Jan" Wörner, Director General of the European Space Agency, during the naming ceremony. "Rosalind the rover captures this spirit and carries us all to the forefront of space exploration."
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