'Giant step in planetary defense': NASA successfully crashes spaceship into asteroid to 'save' our planet
WASHINGTON, DC: NASA added yet another feather to its cap after successfully crashing a spaceship into an asteroid on Monday, September 26, in their bid to save Earth.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission smashed into the space rock 11 million miles from our planet, making it the space agency's first planetary defense test as it gathers information to see if the impact actually changed the asteroid's orbit. NASA may employ similar missions in the future to deflect asteroids that threaten our planet.
Video footage from the D.C. headquarters showed mission operations staff anxiously tracking the spacecraft as the asteroid grew in size on its camera feed. A commentator announced shortly after, "We have impact!" after it was confirmed that DART lost its signal while crashing into the celestial body. NASA administrator Bill Nelson called the project a "giant step in planetary defense."
IMPACT SUCCESS! Watch from #DARTMIssion’s DRACO Camera, as the vending machine-sized spacecraft successfully collides with asteroid Dimorphos, which is the size of a football stadium and poses no threat to Earth. pic.twitter.com/7bXipPkjWD— NASA (@NASA) September 26, 2022
The space agency reportedly took images of the impact using a small satellite that detached from DART shortly before it crashed into the asteroid. The images captured are on their way back to Earth at the time of publication and are expected to arrive roughly 24 hours after the impact. Data and photos captured by the companion CubeSat will help assess whether the $330 million mission was a success.
Timelapse video of NASA's DART spacecraft impacting an asteroid for science. pic.twitter.com/6h88wcGjYc— Michael Baylor (@nextspaceflight) September 26, 2022
DART was designed to change the orbit of its target, Dimorphos, a moonlet that orbits the asteroid Didymos. The mission mirrors the plot of the 1998 blockbuster 'Armageddon' in which NASA flies a spacecraft into an asteroid to prevent it from hitting Earth. "DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space," the agency wrote on its website. The spacecraft reportedly had a box-shaped body about twice the size of a washing machine, equipped with two 18-meter-long solar panels.
¡Acabamos de probar nuestro primer sistema de defensa planetaria!— Crespo (@QuantumFracture) September 26, 2022
¡DART colisionó contra Dimorphos! pic.twitter.com/OtiHhZ7ftE
The spacecraft took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida back in November and took nearly ten months to reach the binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos. According to NASA, Didymos is about 740 meters in diameter and sits between the orbits of Earth and Mars. However, it wasn't DART's primary target as the mission initially aimed to hit a moonlet orbiting Didymos closely. The smaller asteroid, named Dimorphos, is 525 feet in diameter and poses no threat to Earth, but represents the size of a space rock that could cause catastrophic damage were it to hit our planet.
While the impact on Monday did not destroy the asteroid, space scientists hope it was enough to change its trajectory so it aligns with the orbit of Didymos. “Sometimes we describe it as running a golf cart into a great pyramid or something like that,” said Nancy Chabot, planetary scientist and DART coordination lead at the Applied Physics Laboratory. “But for Dimorphos, this really is about asteroid deflection, not disruption," she added.
NASA's DART spacecraft launches through the Vandenberg fog in November, 2021.— Michael Baylor (@nextspaceflight) September 26, 2022
Today it successfully hit an asteroid! pic.twitter.com/75VDERy4vS
While there aren't any asteroids on a direct collision course with our planet at this time, there are notably over 27,000 near-Earth asteroids in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The data collected by DART is expected to improve planetary defense strategies and would help researchers understand the amount of force required to throw a near-Earth asteroid off its trajectory.