NASA readies to launch anti-asteroid missile

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News


Early Wednesday morning, NASA will be undertaking a groundbreaking new program aimed at protecting Earth from incoming astronomical objects. 

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, mission is slated to launch from California overnight at 1:21 a.m. (EST). 

According to a release from NASA, specially designed missiles were encapsulated in the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which will be fired into space with the goal of striking a distant asteroid and, scientists hope, causing it to change speed or course. 

“The encapsulation event is a significant milestone in DART’s launch process as it marks the last direct access to the spacecraft and completion of all major testing milestones prior to launch,” Joan Misner, NASA’s Launch Service Program integration engineer, said. 

Once launched, DART will spend almost a year in transit, bound for the asteroid system Didymos, which is Greek for “twin”. The system poses no threat to Earth but is close enough to serve as a test subject. 

Didymos is so named as it contains only two asteroids, one about a half mile in size and a second, smaller asteroid of about 535 feet. 

DART will collide with the smaller asteroid, which scientists have named Dimorphos, and scientists will use earthbound telescopes to track the speed and path of its orbit around the larger asteroid. 

The impact is not expected to occur until late September or early October of 2022 and, unlike a recent Russian anti-satellite test, any debris caused by the collision would pose no threat to Earth or ships and satellites operating  in its orbit.  

DART, if successful, would prove Earth-constructed missiles can be used to alter the speed and/or direction of asteroids. This would be profoundly useful should the Earth ever be threatened by such an object. 

No such threat currently exists and based on NASA’s extensive calculations could not exist for at least another century.