NASA and Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, launched a test rocket designed to crash into asteroids that may threaten the existence of life on Earth.
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a kind of self-guiding spacecraft that seeks out asteroids, was launched early Wednesday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, the agency announced Wednesday. After detaching from the Falcon rocket, the DART will fly millions of miles to find a large asteroid and fly directly into it.
“DART is turning science fiction into science fact and is a testament to NASA’s proactivity and innovation for the benefit of all,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in the announcement. “In addition to all the ways NASA studies our universe and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this test will help prove out one viable way to protect our planet from a hazardous asteroid should one ever be discovered that is headed toward Earth.”
The DART’s target is an asteroid called Dimorphos located in the Didymos asteroid system. The spacecraft is expected to reach the Didymos system between Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, 2022, and it will collide with the asteroid at roughly 4 miles per second, NASA announced.
Researchers located on Earth will study the effects of the collision on Dimorphos’ orbit and determine how effective the collision is in deflecting threatening asteroids.
NASA said that the technology is intended to serve as part of a planetary defense strategy, preventing a mass extinction event occurring from an asteroid impacting the Earth.
“We know a six-mile wide asteroid hitting what is today the Yucatán Peninsula was what wiped out much of life on earth, including the dinosaurs,” Nelson told The Washington Post.
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