NASA plans to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid in a historic test of planetary defense technology

On Monday is NASA’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft collide with Dimorphos, a small asteroid, in an attempt to alter the object’s orbit.

The New York Times explained that in 2005 Congress gave NASA a mandate to find 90 percent of near-Earth asteroids large enough to destroy a city — those 460 feet or more in diameter. As NASA searches for deadly asteroids, it also develops methods to respond to a potential threat.

With DART, NASA is making the very first (real) attempt by mankind to deflect an asteroid. NASA’s goal is to see if DART can accelerate Dimorphos’ orbit around a larger asteroid, Didymos. The mission is a proof-of-concept demonstration that hitting an oncoming asteroid with a projectile can knock the asteroid into a different orbit, according to the New York Times explained. Such a nudge could mean the difference between an asteroid hitting Earth or safely passing us.

Dimorphos was chosen for its proximity to Earth – it’s about 6.8 million miles away – but NASA says it poses no threat to our planet. The rock is about 525 feet in diameter.

“We describe it as driving a golf cart into the Great Pyramid.” said Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Once DART approaches the asteroid, the spacecraft will be largely self-piloted until its crash landing. “You move extremely fast” said Elena Adams, the systems engineer for DART missions. “And at that point you can’t really send any more orders. So your system has to be very, very precise in how it controls the spacecraft.”

It will be days to weeks before scientists can confirm if the test worked Nature.

DART is planned crashing into Dimorphos at 14,000 miles per hour at 7:14 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday. NASA television will air coverage of the end of this mission beginning at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time. NASA will also start Broadcast- a stream of photos from DART as it approaches the asteroid at 5:30 p.m. Eastern.

“We are very excited to see how it will turn out,” said Michelle Chen, software engineer at the Johns Hopkins lab.

NASA hasn’t said if it will conduct future tests if the DART mission fails, but rumors are circulating that Bruce Willis remains on standby. NASA plans to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid in a historic test of planetary defense technology

Laura Coffey

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