NASA Launches Mission to Stop Killer Asteroid From Destroying Earth. Really.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) launched Wednesday morning, with a mission to crash into a distant asteroid and knock it off course.
No, you didn't just step into a late-'90s, end-of-the-world Bruce Willis flick. Early Wednesday morning, at 1:21 a.m. EST, NASA launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission (DART) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the hopes that the 1,200-pound spacecraft will zip across the solar system and collide with a small asteroid named Dimorphos next year. If DART hits its mark and sends Dimorphos off track, humanity can rest a little easier knowing that we have the ability to swat away killer asteroids before they send us the way of the dinosaurs.
NASA tweeted this morning, "Asteroid Dimorphos: we're coming for you!"
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
To be clear, DART's target Dimorphos, which is roughly the size of one of the pyramids of Giza, is not an actual threat to Earth. This is just a test to see if it can be done. Once the impact is made, Andy Rivkin, the DART investigation team lead at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, told the New York Times that they will measure the asteroid's orbit speed. If it is sped up by at least 73 seconds, that would be enough to alter its trajectory and make the mission a success.
Given that it will take about a year to get there, NASA is keeping an eye out for distant threats. Kelly Fast, the manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program, spoke with the Times about the program's urgency: “You’ve got to find them before you can get them, and you want to find them early.” The program is keeping an eye on any asteroids that are bigger than a football stadium. “You want to find these things years or decades in advance.”
Happy hunting, NASA!