NASA is set to launch a spacecraft that will deliberately crash into an asteroid millions of miles from Earth, the first test of humanity’s ability to divert a potentially catastrophic celestial body.

It Double Asteroid Redirection TestThe launch of the DART (Deadly Advanced Research Technology) was set for Wednesday at 1:31 a.m. EDT from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Southern California. The mission’s purpose is simple in theory: The DART spacecraft will speed up to about 15,000 mph and eventually hurtle itself into a small asteroid, Dimorphos, in late September 2022. This collision will take place approximately 6.8 millions miles from Earth.

NASA will then measure any change in momentum to see if the test successfully altered the asteroid’s trajectory. Dimorphos orbits about two football field-sized asteroid Didymos. It is roughly half mile wide.

“What we’re going to try and do is move this asteroid, just change its orbit a little bit and demonstrate that we can actually do this,” Dr. Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said in a Q&A on Tuesday. “We don’t know of any asteroids that are potentially dangerous right now … but we want to test this technique so that if and when we discover an asteroid … we have this tool in our belt and we are ready to go.”

Neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth, and NASA stressed that there is no known body larger than Dimorphos that has a “significant chance” to hit the planet in the next 100 years. NASA maintains a list of close-Earth objects but it only contains about 5%. 40% of those they’ve been tasked with finding have been tracked as part of the agency’s planet defense effort.)

If DART works as expected, it will allow humanity to deal with space objects that threaten our future. It also provides evidence that these objects can be diverted away from collision with Earth. Idealerweise, the orbits of Dimorphos and the larger asteroid would shift by less than 1%. This will allow the orbits of smaller bodies to move by several minutes.

If there is a threat to the future, a collision millions miles away from Earth would allow space programs enough time to change the orbit of asteroids in order for them not to pass us.

“This asteroid system is a perfect testing ground to see if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future,” NASA said of the mission.


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