ExoMars rover named after DNA pioneer

The ExoMars Rover (courtesy of ESA)

The European Space Agency has named its new ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin, after the DNA pioneer, it has been announced.

ExoMars (Exobiology on Mars) is a joint mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos to search for evidence of life on Mars.

The University of Leicester is involved in two of the instruments that will equip the Rosalind rover.

The name was decided by a panel of experts from a list of possibilities suggested by nearly 36,000 members of the public.

In November 2018 over 100 delegates from academia and industry met at the National Space Centre in Leicester to select the landing site for the ExoMars rover.

After four years of careful study, The Landing Site Selection Working Group opted for Oxia Planum as their preferred site, because its fine sediments would be perfect for the rover’s drill. The decision will be officially confirmed early this year.

Professor John Bridges, Professor of Planetary Science from University of Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: “The University of Leicester has a major commitment and a variety of roles in the exploration of Mars, from studying landing sites and martian meteorites, to developing the instruments the Rosalind Franklin rover will carry, and Mars rovers’ operations. 

“Our knowledge of the evolution of Mars has developed radically over the last 10 to 20 years and future missions will ensure that our University stays at the forefont of international research.   It is also good that the naming of space projects is starting to catch up with the gender balance in our science teams.”

ExoMars is part of a wider worldwide drive to explore Mars, and if the European mission is successful it will open up new opportunities to bring back samples from Mars, and one day develop human missions.