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NASA Says Mars Rock Hitchhiking in Rover's Wheel Isn't a Risk

Perseverance is living up to its name.

roverwheelrock
This Perseverance rover image from Feb. 25 shows the rock the wheel. It was voted as "Image of the Week" for Week 54. 
NASA/JPL-Caltech

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

If you've ever gotten a rock in your shoe, you'll feel for NASA's Perseverance rover. The rolling Mars explorer picked up a rock in one of its wheels, and the rock seems to be sticking around. It isn't a boulder, but it isn't a pebble either.

So far, the rock isn't slowing Perseverance's roll.   

Space fans recently noticed the it. The public voted a shot from Feb. 25 as a Perseverance "Image of the Week." The most recent view of the hitchhiker is from March 2.

NASA posts the rover's raw images on a regular basis. Looking back through the archives, I found that the rock appeared in the vehicle's hazard avoidance camera images at least as far back as Feb. 6, though I didn't do an exhaustive survey.

Since Perseverance seems to have adopted a pet rock, I reached out to NASA to see if anyone has given it a nickname. NASA-JPL spokesperson Andrew Good said there's no name and the rock is "not perceived as a risk." 

As you can imagine, the rock makes driving a bit noisier. 

"We've seen these kinds of rocks get 'caught' in Curiosity's wheels from time to time, too. They occur during cross-slope drives, and tend to fall out entirely on their own after a while (there's no particular way to get this rock out of our 'shoe')," Good said in an email.   

Perseverance's six wheels are made of aluminum, with cleats that give it traction on the rough, rocky and dusty terrain in the Jezero Crater. Each wheel is 20.7 inches (52.5 centimeters) in diameter. NASA's newest rover sports an updated design compared with the wheels on the older Curiosity rover that have taken a beating but are still functioning after many years on the red planet.

Perseverance has been trucking across Mars, setting new driving records along the way. If anything, it's a testament to the rover's robust wheel design. If I had a rock that size in my shoe, I wouldn't be going anywhere.