Story at a glance
- The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California early Wednesday.
- The goal of the test mission is to determine whether intentionally crashing an object into an asteroid is an effective way of changing its course, should an asteroid ever set its sights on Earth.
- The spacecraft is scheduled to hit the moonlet sometime between Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, 2022.
NASA successfully launched a spacecraft that will deliberately smash into an asteroid to test whether it’s possible to knock the space rock off course should one ever threaten Earth in the future.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California early Wednesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The mission will utilize what NASA calls the kinetic impactor technique. DART’s target is a binary asteroid system called Didymos, which is made up of a 780-meter asteroid and a smaller “moonlet” dubbed Dimorphos that measures 160 meters across.
Asteroid Dimorphos: we're coming for you!— NASA (@NASA) November 24, 2021
Riding a @SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, our #DARTMission blasted off at 1:21am EST (06:21 UTC), launching the world's first mission to test asteroid-deflecting technology. pic.twitter.com/FRj1hMyzgH
While the asteroid poses absolutely no threat to humanity, the goal of the mission is to test whether intentionally crashing an object into an asteroid is in fact an effective way of changing its course.
Using camera and autonomous navigation, the spacecraft will ram into the moonlet at a speed of more than 15,000 mph. Researchers on the ground will observe how the asteroid’s trajectory shifts.
“DART is turning science fiction into science fact and is a testament to NASA’s proactivity and innovation for the benefit of all,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
“In addition to all the ways NASA studies our universe and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this test will help prove out one viable way to protect our planet from a hazardous asteroid should one ever be discovered that is headed toward Earth,” Nelson said.
The spacecraft is scheduled to hit the moonlet sometime between Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, 2022. The collision will occur nearly 7 million miles from Earth.
Researchers predict the impact will shorten Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by several minutes.
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