NASA’s asteroid-smashing spacecraft nears its target

(NewsNation) — The world’s first planetary defense test mission, NASA’s $325 million project to smash a spacecraft into an asteroid, is aligning in the heavens.

The DART spacecraft, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is fast approaching its target and expected to slam head-on into Dimorphos, an asteroid 525 feet across, at 15,000 mph Monday.

“This isn’t going to destroy the asteroid. It’s just going to give it a small nudge,” mission official Nancy Chabot of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory told the Associated Press.

The DART lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in November 2021.

In the first test of its kind, NASA is flexing its ability to protect the earth from the thousands of asteroids and comets — known as Near-Earth objects (NEOS) — that could potentially pose a risk to our planet.

Flying into space with DART is a small satellite companion called LICIACube (short for Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging Asteroids) that will separate before DART’s impact to record the collision for the world to see.

Using telescopes back on Earth, NASA hopes to be able to measure how much DART changes the asteroid’s course. The data will be able to help NASA better prepare for an asteroid that could “pose an impact or hazard to Earth,” if that threat ever becomes a reality.

“This demonstration is extremely important to our future,” NASA’S Lindley Johnson said.

While NASA officials say there’s no threat of an asteroid crashing into earth right now, the test will help us be prepared if or when disaster ever strikes. 

“At the end of the day, the real question is, how effectively did we move the asteroid?” said NASA’s Tom Statler. “And can this technique of kinetic impact be used in the future if we ever needed to? “

Nasa has been working on the project for more than a year with the help of the Johns Hopkins physics laboratory. Those involved with the mission say if all goes well will be a “big step forward for humanity.

“This is an exciting time, not only for the agency, but in space history and in the history of the human time, quite frankly,” Johnson said.

NASA will be streaming live coverage on its social media accounts — FacebookTwitter, and YouTube — starting at 6 p.m. ET on Sept. 26. Impact is expected at 7:14 p.m. ET.

Nexstar Media Wire and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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