On Monday at 7:14 p.m., NASA successfully completed its Double Asteroid Redirection Test by intentionally crashing an unmanned spacecraft into an asteroid to alter the asteroid’s trajectory.
The test was run as part of a program to see if a spacecraft could knock potentially “catastrophic” asteroids off course if they were heading towards Earth, the Washington Post reported.
To conclude this test, NASA crashed a craft into the asteroid Dimorphos at 14,000 miles per hour.
“At its core, DART represents an unprecedented success for planetary defense, but it is also a mission of unity with a real benefit for all humanity. As NASA studies the cosmos and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this international collaboration turned science fiction into science fact, demonstrating one way to protect Earth,” said Bill Nelson, NASA’s administrator, in a news release on Monday.
NASA also released four images that were taken by the “Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation (DRACO)” imager just before and as the spacecraft crashed successfully into Dimorphos.
Dimorphos was a small asteroid orbiting the larger asteroid Didymos, NASA explained in the release, noting that both asteroids were not a threat to Earth at the time of the test.
Though classified as “small” according to space standards, Dimorphos was roughly the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza, one scientist told the Post.
The mission was controlled from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and used the technique that NASA calls “kinetic impact” to ram into the asteroid and knock it off its orbital course, NASA’s news release explained.
“This isn’t just bowling-ball physics. The spacecraft’s gonna lose,” said Nancy Chabot, a planetary scientist at the Applied Physics Laboratory, the Post reported.
The craft that NASA crashed into Dimorphos was small.
It was only the size of a golf cart and was launched from California last November, the Post reported.
The goal was not to destroy the asteroid but to alter its course, and with a successful mission, NASA would be able to prove the concept that this technique could keep a potentially dangerous asteroid from crashing into Earth in the future.
Though the craft crashed, there was a “Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube) provided by the Italian Space Agency” in order to capture images from the mission and show scientists the impact and its aftereffects, according to the release.
Those images will be sent to Earth sometime in the upcoming weeks, NASA’s news release reported.
This defense system experiment was not cheap, however.
Though the craft that crashed into Dimorphos was small, it cost $308 million, the Planetary Society reported.
Another $68.8 million was spent on launching the spacecraft, and $16.5 million will likely be spent on all DART operations and the subsequent analysis of the mission. That brings the total price tag of the DART project to $324.5 million, the Planetary Society reported.
But NASA explained that this kind of experiment is another step forward in protecting the planet from potential damage from an asteroid.
“DART’s success provides a significant addition to the essential toolbox we must have to protect Earth from a devastating impact by an asteroid,” NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson explained, the news release reported.
“This demonstrates we are no longer powerless to prevent this type of natural disaster. Coupled with enhanced capabilities to accelerate finding the remaining hazardous asteroid population by our next Planetary Defense mission, the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor, a DART successor could provide what we need to save the day,” Johnson added.
Applied Physics Laboratory Director Ralph Semmel also celebrated the success of the mission.
“This first-of-its-kind mission required incredible preparation and precision, and the team exceeded expectations on all counts,” Semmel said. “Beyond the truly exciting success of the technology demonstration, capabilities based on DART could one day be used to change the course of an asteroid to protect our planet and preserve life on Earth as we know it.”
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