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NASA Perseverance Mars rover is packed with secret stowaways

From a dinosaur to a bit of Sherlock Holmes lore, some amazing extras are riding along on the trip to Mars.

A piece of this Martian meteorite that spent time on the ISS is now a part of NASA's Perseverance rover.

NASA/JPL-Caltech /LANL/CNES/ESA/Thomas Pesquet

NASA's next-generation Perseverance rover is counting down the days until it reaches Mars in February. To keep us busy in the meantime, NASA shared an inside look at a series of hidden gems tucked into the rover, everything from a slice of a Martian meteorite to a cute little picture of a retro rocket ship.

We were already well aware of some of the rover's extras, like microchips with 10.9 million names and an aluminum plate that acts as a tribute to health care workers on the front lines of the global coronavirus pandemic. But there are more treasures to be uncovered. 

Perseverance's Sherloc (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals) instrument lives on the rover's robotic arm and has a camera named Watson (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering). 

Sherloc is designed to investigate organics and minerals connected to the red planet's history of water, so it's like a Mars super-sleuth. The rover carries a collection of different materials used to calibrate the instrument. This calibration target includes a coin made of spacesuit helmet-visor material that reads "221BBaker" for the famous address of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

The calibration target for the Perseverance Sherloc instrument contains spacesuit material, a slice of Martian meteorite and an inscribed 221BBaker coin made from helmet visor material.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

But wait, there's more. "To fine-tune the instrument's settings, scientists added a slice of Martian meteorite," NASA said in a statement on Tuesday. "Along with the visor material, four other samples of spacesuit materials also reside on the target so that NASA can observe how they hold up on the irradiated, dusty Martian surface."

The rover's SuperCam laser instrument will also use a Martian meteorite fragment as a calibration target. "This particular piece of rock on SuperCam made a roundtrip voyage to the International Space Station before scientists added it to Perseverance," NASA said.

That means Perseverance will be returning some bits of Mars back to their home planet.

The rover's Mastcam-Z, which NASA describes as its main "eyes," also needs to check itself from time to time. It has a calibration target that doubles as a sundial. The face of the sundial contains a series of sweet drawings showing a dinosaur, humans, a rocket ship and a fern.

The NASA Perseverance rover's Mastcam-Z calibration target acts as a sundial and includes a series of drawings. 

ASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS/U of Copenhagen

"It's all in tribute to Perseverance's astrobiology mission, searching for signs of ancient microbial life on the planet's surface," NASA said. 

NASA has a long tradition of tucking interesting tidbits into its space missions. The Curiosity rover's 1909 Lincoln penny is a good example. The agency calls the practice "festooning."

Said Perseverance team member Jim Bell of Arizona State University, "These kinds of embellishments add artistic elements on missions that are otherwise solely dominated by science and technology, as well as lasting tributes to colleagues who have helped pave the way for humanity's exploration of space."