In a first-of-its-kind mission, NASA successfully rammed its spacecraft into an asteroid at blistering speed on Monday. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which is the world’s first planetary defense technology started flying 10 months ago in space and successfully impacted its asteroid target in the agency’s first attempt to move an asteroid in space.
The mission control was set up at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, which announced the successful impact at 7:14 p.m. EDT.
IMPACT SUCCESS! Watch from #DARTMIssion’s DRACO Camera, as the vending machine-sized spacecraft successfully collides with asteroid Dimorphos, which is the size of a football stadium and poses no threat to Earth. pic.twitter.com/7bXipPkjWD
— NASA (@NASA) September 26, 2022
The $344 million spacecraft, DART’s target was a small asteroid moonlet Dimorphos that orbits a larger, 2,560-foot asteroid called Didymos. Notedly, neither asteroid poses a threat to Earth. The test was conducted as a part of NASA’s overall planetary defense strategy to test a kinetic impactor technology that could be used in the future to save Earth from an incoming asteroid.
“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,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “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.”
The mission’s one-way trip confirmed NASA can successfully navigate a spacecraft to intentionally collide with an asteroid to deflect it, a technique known as kinetic impact. Now, the cameras and telescopes including the James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble telescope are keeping an eye to see the impact DART’s impact altered the asteroid’s orbit around Didymos. Researchers expect the impact to shorten Dimorphos’ orbit by about 1%, or roughly 10 minutes; precisely measuring how much the asteroid was deflected is one of the primary purposes of the full-scale test.
“This first-of-its-kind mission required incredible preparation and precision, and the team exceeded expectations on all counts,” said APL Director Ralph Semmel. “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.”