NASA has equipped its Mars rover Perseverance with two tools named after a popular fictional duo. Called “Sherloc” and Watson, each tool is part of a system that will enable NASA to investigate Mars rocks as small as a grain of sand. Sherloc is located on the rover’s robotic arm; it includes a laser and spectrometers that work alongside the Watson camera.
The Perseverance rover is scheduled to launch later this year with an anticipated Mars arrival date in February 2021. The machine will carry a number of instruments that enable it to study various aspects of the Martian environment, including a hunt for evidence of past microbial life on the Red Planet. Two of the tools, NASA said on Tuesday, are Sherloc and Watson.
Sherloc is located at the end of the robotic arm on Perseverance; Watson is a camera that works with Sherloc to capture images of rock textures. When combined, these two instruments will be able to detect organic molecules and select minerals on Martian rocks, helping uncover the building blocks of life.
The tools are part of a larger system on Perseverance, one that will be able to drill samples of the most interesting rocks that are discovered, deposit the drilled samples in metal tubes, and then drop in a specific location on Mars. NASA anticipates that a future Mars mission will include spacecraft that are able to retrieve these samples and shuttle them back to Earth.
Another six instruments will join Sherloc, NASA says, including the SuperCam. The rover itself weighs around 2,260lbs and is expected to launch at some point between July 17 and August 11. NASA says that regardless of which day it launches — as long as it is in that timeframe — it will reach the targeted Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18, 2021.