NASA and Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, launched a test rocket Wednesday that is designed to crash into asteroids that could potentially threaten Earth.
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), a self-guiding spacecraft designed to seek out asteroids, was launched early Wednesday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, the agency announced Wednesday. Once the DART detaches from the Falcon rocket it will fly millions of miles to find a large asteroid that it will collide with.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) November 24, 2021
“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.”
DART’s target is an asteroid called Dimorphos which is located in the Didymos asteroid system. The spacecraft is expected to reach the Didymos system between Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, 2022, and will collide with the asteroid at roughly 4 miles per second, NASA announced.
Researchers will study the effects of the collision on Dimorphos’ orbit and use the data to determine how effective it might be in deflecting a threatening asteroid.
NASA said that the technology is intended to serve as part of a planetary defense strategy that would prevent an asteroid event from causing a mass extinction event on 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 said.