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NASA to crash spacecraft into asteroid at 13,500 MPH to practice saving Earth

Artist concept of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft. DART, which is moving to preliminary design phase, would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defense. (NASA/JHUAPL/Released)
January 10, 2019

As part of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which is the very first planetary-defense mission conducted by the agency, they plan to crash a spaceship into a rock at 13,500 miles per hour as part of a test run in 2021.

The purpose of the research is “protecting Earth from deadly asteroid strikes,” according to The Daily Star.

Unlike other NASA missions that focus on space in the universe and its functions, this project is about planetary defense.

“DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact. Since we don’t know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid. With DART, we can show how to protect Earth from an asteroid strike with a kinetic impactor by knocking the hazardous object into a different flight path that would not threaten the planet,” said Andy Cheng of The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, DART investigation co-lead, NASA reported.

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Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory and project scientist for DART, said, “That’s one of the big differences, is a lot of the science-driven missions seem to be focused on understanding the past of the solar system, the early solar system, how it all formed. Planetary defense is really about the present solar system and what are we going to do in the present,” as reported by Space.com.

Scientists have had concerns about asteroids falling to earth that could cause damage and even possibly mass extinction.

A sizeable asteroid called Didymos, which has a distant approach to Earth in October 2022 and then again in 2024, is DART’s target, according to NASA.

Didymos A is about half a mile in size, and Didymos B is about 530 feet in size. DART’s target is Didymos B.

Neither of the asteroids are headed to Earth, but scientists believe this is an ideal target to experiment on for future asteroids and the ability to bump them off course.

The DART team will crash a spacecraft into Didymos B, 11 million kilometers, or about 6.8 million miles, from Earth, using advanced technology.

Chabot said, “It’s interesting, because it’s a space mission, but the telescopes are such a huge, important part of the mission succeeding. We have to know where this moon is in order to impact it, to make this maximum deflection. We kind of take for granted that we know where everything is at all times. We understand where the system is as a whole, but specifically where that moon’s gonna be [requires tracking] because we want to try to hit it head-on.”

She added, “To do something like this, we’d also need a really long warning time; the idea of a kinetic impactor is definitely not like [the film] ‘Armageddon,’ where you go up at the last hour and you know, save the Earth. This is something that you would do five, 10, 15, 20 years in advance – gently nudge the asteroid so it just sails merrily on its way and doesn’t impact the Earth.”

Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said, “DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique – striking the asteroid to shift its orbit – to defend against a potential future asteroid impact. This approval step advances the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid,” NASA reported.