We sure are — all in the name of planetary defense. The DART mission is a technology test to see if an impactor could change the trajectory of an asteroid. Nancy Chabot of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory tells us more.
Yes, NASA really is crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid. That spacecraft is DART, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test. Now, asteroids hit the Earth all of the time. Luckily, the ones that are big enough to cause widespread damage are pretty rare and none are expected in the near future.
NASA and others are actively tracking asteroids, but also we haven’t found all of them yet. So, it makes sense to do this first test to demonstrate if we needed to protect the Earth what might we do. And we should do this test before we need it. That’s where DART comes in.
DART is a spacecraft that’s about the size of a vending machine. And it has really long solar arrays that stick out. And it’s going to be traveling really fast — about 15,000 miles per hour. And it’s going to slam into this target asteroid that’s about the size of the Great Pyramid.
So, slamming this smaller spacecraft into this larger asteroid isn’t going to destroy it, but it will deflect it. It’s going to give it a small little nudge and that will ever so slightly change that asteroid’s future path.
If you wanted to do this, you would want to do it years in advance such that the asteroid and the Earth weren’t on a collision course in the future. So, is NASA crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid? Yes, NASA really is. In the name of planetary defense in order to be ready in case we need it.