NASA intentionally crashed an un-crewed vending machine-sized spacecraft into an asteroid Monday to test our defenses should a similar object ever threaten planet Earth.
What sounds like a rehashed plot of the late 90’s classic end-of-the-world drama “Armageddon,” or Netflix’s latest version of a doomsday story, “Don’t Look Up” — the national space agency took a giant leap in planetary defense for the first time in history by hurtling a spacecraft toward an asteroid known as Didymos, and it’s moonlet Dimorphos.
“We’re embarking on a new era of humankind, an era in which we potentially have the capability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous, hazardous asteroid impact,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said according to CNN. “What an amazing thing. We’ve never had that capability before.”
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) officially became the world’s first mission to successfully test technology that would “defend earth against an incoming killer asteroid,” Bill Nelson, NASA’s 14th administrator, said in a video.
“One of our main reasons at NASA that we exist is not only that space is the place,” Nelson said. “But we also look back at the home planet, and we tried to benefit life here on planet Earth.
“We only have one home, so we ought to take care of it,” he added.
Nelson said DART would soar at 15,000 miles an hour only to intersect the asteroid the size of an Egyptian pyramid at about 7 million miles away to slightly move its trajectory away from Earth.
DART initially launched in November 2021 with a briefcase-sized CubeSat designed by the Italian Space Agency attached to it to capture images and videos upon impact, according to CNN. Such images are expected to be streamed in the coming weeks and months.
Other space technology that captured the aftermath included the James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, and NASA’s Lucy mission.
Space.com reports neither Dimorphos nor Didymos pose a threat; the DART mission would not change that regardless of its outcome.
Still, the mission was meant to test the theory that the technique could be used for prevention in the event of an asteroid heading straight for Earth.
NASA officials in a news conference Monday said following the mission that there are more than 27,000 near-Earth asteroids in all shapes and sizes, none of which are on a direct impact course with Earth at the moment.
Rep. Don Beyer, the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee chairman, dubbed the DART mission “a historic success.”
“The risk of impact from asteroids and other hazardous space objects is low, but the damage would be immense,” Beyer said in a tweet shortly after officials announced the mission’s success.
He added that “developing the capability to prevent impact is a key long-term objective.”