NASA is set to launch a spacecraft today to smash into an asteroid near the Earth at 15,000 miles per hour in what is being termed as a test of ‘planetary defense’.
The mission dubbed, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, seeks to test whether slamming a spacecraft into an asteroid can nudge it into a different trajectory. If successful, the mission will come in handy if NASA and other space agencies ever need to deflect an asteroid to save Earth and avert a catastrophic impact.
After launching to space, the spacecraft will make nearly one full orbit around the sun before it crosses paths with Dimorphos, a football-field-size asteroid that closely orbits a bigger asteroid, called Didymos, every 11 hours and 55 minutes. Astronomers call those two asteroids a binary system, where one is a mini-moon to the other. Together, the two asteroids make one full orbit around the sun every two years.
“Astronomers will be able to compare observations from Earth-based telescopes before and after DART’s kinetic impact to determine how much the orbital period of Dimorphos changed,” said Tom Statler, DART program scientist at NASA Headquarters, in a statement. “That’s the key measurement that will tell us how the asteroid responded to our deflection effort.”
Near-Earth objects are asteroids and comets with orbits that place them within 30 million miles (48 million kilometers) of Earth and the DART mission is aimed at preparing for potential threats of near-earth objects in the future.
“DART is the first step in testing methods for hazardous asteroid deflection,” said Andrea Riley, DART program executive at NASA Headquarters, in a statement. “Potentially hazardous asteroids are a global concern, and we are excited to be working with our Italian and European colleagues to collect the most accurate data possible from this kinetic impact deflection demonstration.”
Where to Watch the Double Asteroid Redirection Test
The DART spacecraft is scheduled to lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday at 1:20 a.m. Eastern time (or 10:20 p.m. local time) from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
NASA plans to host a live stream of the launch on its YouTube channel starting at 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
NASA’s Dart mission depicts the story of a 1998 American science fiction disaster film, Armageddon, starring Bruce Willis, produced and directed by Michael Bay.
DART “is something of a replay of Bruce Willis’s movie, ‘Armageddon,’ although that was totally fictional,” Bill Nelson, NASA’s administrator, said in an interview.
After a massive meteor shower destroys the Space Shuttle Atlantis, NASA scientists discover they have eighteen days before an asteroid the size of Texas impacts Earth, destroying all planetary life. NASA executive Dan Truman leads a team that devises a plan to have the world’s best deep core oil driller train a group of astronauts to drill a hole into the asteroid into which they will insert and detonate a nuclear bomb to split the asteroid in half.