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The Next Mars Rover Has Been Named in Honor of DNA Pioneer Rosalind Franklin

The rover will launch next year to search for evidence of past or present life on Mars.

In 2020, a new rover will fly to Mars to search for signs of past or present life — so it's fitting that the rover will be named after Rosalind Franklin, the British chemist who helped uncover the mysteries of DNA! Astronaut Tim Peake announced the name at the Airbus factory in the UK where the European Space Agency (ESA) rover is being assembled. Franklin's sister, Jenifer Glynn, spoke to the BBC about the honor: "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. 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's role in discerning DNA's structure — one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century — is often held up as a classic example of sexism in the sciences. Franklin was an accomplished X-ray crystallographer and, in 1952, she used her knowledge of x-ray diffraction techniques to take the fist photo of DNA, referred to as Photo 51.  Without her permission, Franklin's photograph was shared with James Watson and Francis Crick who were working on identifying the structure of DNA. Franklin's photo allowed them to deduce that DNA took the form of a double helix; however, when they published a paper Nature the following year, they only mentioned Franklin in a footnote. While Watson, Crick and Maurice Wilkins received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their contributions to science, Franklin had passed away due to cancer four years prior at the age of 37 and was not eligible for the award. Given how frequently Franklin's contributions to unlocking the secrets of DNA are overlooked, especially in schools, many people feel that her role in the discovery has never been honored appropriately.

Until the ESA's announcement, the rover had been known as ExoMars; it's designed to drill into the first 6.5 feet (2 meters) of the Martian surface to look for evidence of past or present life. Franklin's name was chosen by a UK-led committee that sifted through almost 36,000 suggestions from the public. "We had the usual clutch of acronyms, deities and inspirational words," said Dr. Sue Horne, the head space exploration at the UK Space Agency, "but when we got down to the short shortlist — it was the obvious choice." Alice Bunn, international director of the U.K. Space Agency, agrees: "Rosalind Franklin is one of science's most influential women, and her part in the discovery of the structure of DNA was truly groundbreaking," she wrote in a statement. "It’s fitting that the robot bearing her name will search for the building blocks of life on Mars, as she did so on Earth through her work on DNA."

The Rosalind Franklin rover will launch next year and land in 2021. It will become the first European rover to travel across the surface of Mars, and its software is designed with some autonomy so that it can navigate using optical sensors and make "decisions" on the ground about where to travel next. The ESA expects that the rover's data will be helpful in preparing for future robotic missions, as well as providing plenty of data for scientists studying Martian geochemistry, environmental science, and exobiology. "[This] rover captures this spirit and carries us all to the forefront of space exploration," asserted Johann-Dietrich Wörner, the director of the ESA. "Science is in our DNA, and in everything we do at ESA.... This name reminds us that it is in the human genes to explore."

Books About Women And Space

Mae Among The Stars

Mae Among The Stars

Written by: Roda Ahmed
Illustrated by: Stasia Burrington
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

Mae Jemison famously became the first black woman in space on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992 but years before that historic journey, she was a little girl who dreamed of dancing in space. Her mother told her, "If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible." Little Mae's curiosity, intelligence, and determination, matched with her parents' encouraging words, paved the way for her incredible success at NASA. This inspirational introduction to a trailblazing astronaut will encourage children to reach for the stars and never give up on their dreams.

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing

Written by: Dean Robbins
Illustrated by: Lucy Knisley
Recommended Age: 5 - 9

Margaret Hamilton loved numbers, and to her, the best part of math was when it could solve a problem in the real world! Her love of math introduced her to computers, and then to a job at NASA, where they were planning a mission to the moon — and computers were going to be a part of it. Hamilton hand-wrote the code for the Apollo missions, and when a last-minute problem cropped up as Apollo 11 prepared for a lunar landing, it was Hamilton's forward-thinking code that saved the day! This lively look at a computer pioneer is a great way to show young readers that math really can take you to the stars.

Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space

Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space

Written by: Libby Jackson
Recommended Age: 7 - 12

This gorgeously illustrated collected biography honors inspirational women who helped fuel some of the greatest achievements in space exploration from the nineteenth century to today! Galaxy Girls pays tribute to fifty pioneering women past and present, from mathematicians to engineers to test pilots to astronauts. Each capsule biography is paired with striking full-page original artwork from the students of the London College of Communication. Perfect for inspiring the space leaders of tomorrow, this stunning book gives this band of heroic sisters and their remarkable and often little known scientific achievements long overdue recognition.

Women in Science

50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World

Women in Science

50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World

Written by: Rachel Ignotofsky
Recommended Age: 9 and up

This charmingly illustrated and educational book highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection profiles well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more!

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – And The World

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – And The World

Written by: Rachel Swaby
Recommended Age: 13 and up

Learn the often neglected stories of women in science with these 52 engaging capsule biographies! Spanning centuries of courageous thinkers, author Rachel Swaby celebrates women whose specializations range from biology to physics to engineering, from famous names like Sally Ride and Ada Lovelace to lesser-known women like Stephanie Kwolek and Chien-Shiung Wu. While each individual's biography runs for only a few pages, Swaby has done an impressive job of conveying the essence of each scientist's life and work into the profiles, while her light tone urges readers to learn more about each of these groundbreaking women.

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA

Written by: Brenda Maddox
Recommended Age: Adults

When Rosalind Franklin's Photo 51 revealed the double helix structure of DNA, it was a groundbreaking discovery — and she received none of the credit. In this biography, Brenda Maddox describes a determined and fiercely intelligent woman whose photographs of DNA were described as "among the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken." And when Maurice Wilkins, Francis Crick, and James Watson received the 1962 Nobel Prize for discovering DNA's structure, it kicked off a debate about how credit is given (and taken) from women in science that continues to this day. This intriguing portrait of a tempestuous and scientifically talented woman is a unique look at the history of DNA you don't know.

DNA: Secret of Photo 51

DNA: Secret of Photo 51

Recommended Age: 10 and up

On April 25, 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published their groundbreaking discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. But their crucial breakthrough depended on the pioneering work of another scientist, Rosalind Franklin. In this DVD of the NOVA episode about Franklin's life and work, viewers will gain a new appreciation for Franklin's single-minded determination, as well as the opposition she faced as a Jewish woman scientist in a time where nearly every aspect of her self made her an outsider. Whatever you feel about the controversy around her work, this episode will give you new appreciation for Franklin's contributions to scientific knowledge.

Women in Science - Rosalind Franklin Poster

Women in Science - Rosalind Franklin Poster

Manufacturer: Rachel Ignotofsky
Recommended Age: 3 and up

This tribute to Rosalind Franklin, the pioneering chemist and crystallographer who first photographed the double-helix shape of DNA, is sure to be a hit with your science-loving Mighty Girl! Part of a Women In Science series by artist Rachel Ignotofsky, this poster pays tribute to Franklin's scientific work, including her contributions to the understanding of the molecular structure of coal, graphite, the polio virus, and the tobacco mosaic virus. This poster is available in 8X10 and 11X14 sizes.

Stargazer Lottie Doll

Stargazer Lottie Doll

Manufacturer: Lottie Dolls
Recommended Age: 3 - 8

The weather may be cold, but that's not going to stop Lottie from doing some stargazing! Lottie Dolls are based on the body of a 9-year-old girl and come with accessories that support a wide range of interests. Stargazer Lottie comes with a space-themed outfit, books about space, and even her own tiny telescope! This 7.5" doll is just the right size to join kids on all their adventures.

LEGO Women of NASA Building Kit

LEGO Women of NASA Building Kit

Manufacturer: LEGO
Recommended Age: 10 and up

Build a tribute to some of the ground-breaking women who took American into space with this much-anticipated set from LEGO Ideas! This fan-designed set features astronomer Nancy Grace Roman; computer scientist Margaret Hamilton; astronaut and physicist Sally Ride; and astronaut, physician and engineer Mae Jemison, each as part of a vignette depicting their role with NASA. It's a wonderful way to inspire the women in STEM of future generations!

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