NASA to target asteroid in ‘planetary defense’ test


NASA is set to target an asteroid in a “planetary defense” test that will begin next month.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, announced on Monday, is aiming to change the direction of asteroid Didymos and its moonlet, which are close to the Earth. 

DART will be launched Nov. 23 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. 

This mission is the first time the kinetic impactor technique will be used — sending a high-speed spacecraft in the path of another object to change its course in “an evaluation of technologies for preventing a hazardous asteroid from striking Earth,” the release said.

The DART will hit Didymos at 15,000 miles per hour to change its course “by a fraction of 1 percent,” NASA scientist Thomas Statler said on a podcast, The Washington Post reported.

“We’ve left footprints and tire tracks and things like that,” Statler said, “but this will be the first time humanity has changed a celestial motion.”

“We’re going to make sure that a rock from space doesn’t send us back to the Stone Age,” Statler added.

The pathway of the asteroids should change enough that it can be observed by telescopes on Earth, including a 31-pound Italian telescope that will record the moment. 

Although the mission starts next month, the spacecraft won’t reach the asteroid until September of next year.