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Astrochemistry

ESA names Mars rover after chemist Rosalind Franklin

European and Russian mission will look for molecular signs of life on the red planet

by Sam Lemonick
February 11, 2019

20190211lnp2-rover.jpg
Credit: ESA
The European Space Agency is naming its Mars rover after the chemist Rosalind Franklin.

Rosalind Franklin will land on Mars in 2021. Not the famed crystallographer, of course; the European Space Agency announced it has named a rover designed to search for molecular signs of life after Franklin, who died in 1958.

ESA is collaborating with the Russian space agency to launch a mission to Mars in 2020 and land the rover at a site on the planet where water once flowed. The Rosalind Franklin rover will carry a mass spectrometer, a Raman spectrometer, and other sensors to look for biological and organic molecules that might indicate life, past or present. It’s the first spacecraft named after a chemist.

Franklin’s work on DNA, including a famous X-ray photograph of the molecule, was key to the eventual discovery of its double helix structure.

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