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NASA Mars Rover Ready to Roll Again After Stringy Debris Delay

The string debris incident.

A wavy, stringlike piece of foreign object debris can be seen on the left side of the Perseverance rover coringbit.
An Aug. 17 image shows a close-up of the string-like foreign object debris, aka FOD, stuck to the rover's coring bit. 
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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

Anyone who has ever had a pesky pet hair stuck to their clothes can sympathize with the situation NASA's Perseverance Mars rover has been in recently. The rover team has been investigating some mysterious foreign object debris, aka FOD, that looks like tiny pieces of string or thread stuck in the equipment it uses to collect rock samples.

In an update Friday, the rover team declared Perseverance is ready to get rolling again despite the debris. The wheeled laboratory has been parked in an ancient river delta region in Jezero Crater while NASA attempts to learn more about the debris.


The wavy FOD, first spotted in early August, has been stubborn. "We've commanded the rover to move, rotate, or vibrate components we think could harbor FOD," wrote Perseverance deputy project manager Steven Lee in the update. The activities showed no new bits of FOD and a review of the rover's recent sample-gathering activities indicates the FOD didn't interfere with the rover's science work.

The rover has encountered some bits and bobs of debris from the entry, descent and landing system that delivered it safely to the planet's surface in early 2021. So far, NASA has identified a shredded piece of netting and part of a thermal blanket. It's possible the FOD is connected to that system.  

Perseverance is drilling rocks and storing samples that NASA hopes to collect during a future mission to bring back to Earth for study. It's a key part of the rover's work, which is why the team has spent so much time studying the debris and making sure it won't cause problems. Lee said the drill and bit carousel are "robust and designed for dirty environments," which gives the team confidence to move on.

The rover will be heading off to visit a location nicknamed Enchanted Lake, a sedimentary outcrop with layered rocks that could help NASA understand the planet's history of water and whether it hosted microbial life at one time. 

Perseverance should begin its drive within the next few days with an expected arrival at Enchanted Lake in early September. It might have some unwanted stringy companions along for the ride, but it's just a temporary setback.