New Mars Rover named after King’s DNA Pioneer

The new UK-constructed Mars Rover, which is to be sent into space in 2020, has been named after Rosalind Franklin, a King’s College London scientist who helped in the discovery of the DNA double helix.

The vehicle, which has the purpose of drilling to search for life on the Red Planet, was named for Rosalind Franklin after a public call which drew thousands of suggestions.

Rosalind Franklin was an X-Ray crystallographer based at the College who made significant contributions to the understanding of the DNA Double Helix. Her work was used by scientists James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, who won the Nobel Prize in 1962 for the research. Franklin’s death in 1958 meant she never received the same recognition, however, the scientist is frequently commemorated by King’s, including on the infamous Strand Wall, and also in the name of the Waterloo Building – the Franklin-Wilkins.

Up until now, the Rover has been referred to as ExoMars, the name given by the European Space Agency. However, the inaugural name of the Rover came after a UK-led panel suggested the public should be allowed to decide. The name was announced at an event at Space UK this morning, hosted by astronaut Tim Peake, and the Science Minister, Chris Skidmore.

Amongst the many suggestions put forward by the public was ‘Rover McRover Face’, the latest joke in the long-list of similarly strange formations, which began with the naming of a UK polar ship. However, this idea was swiftly rejected by the UK Space Agency, who were permitted to choose the name of the Rover due to significant financial contribution.

The Rosalind Franklin Rover is estimated to launch into space in August 2020, with the European Space Agency and the Russian Space Agency working in partnership to launch the vehicle.

Speaking to the BBC, Rosalind Franklin’s sister, Jenifer Glynn, said of the project: “Rosalind 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.”