NASA is preparing to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid in an attempt to alter its trajectory. While the asteroid poses no threat to Earth, NASA hopes the test will successfully demonstrate the ability to change the course of a potential planet-killing asteroid.
"This is the only natural disaster that humankind can do something about," Andy Rivkin of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is building the spacecraft for NASA, told ABC News. "And this is our first attempt to kind of take that into our hands, to take our future into our hands that way."
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft is scheduled to launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Tuesday (November 23) night at 10:21 p.m. PT from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. It is expected to reach its target in the fall of 2022.
The craft will travel more than six million miles to reach the asteroid Didymos, which is nearly a half-mile wide. The probe, which is the size of a golf cart, will not impact Didymos. Instead, it will collide with a smaller moonlet known as Dimorphos, which is 525 feet across at a speed of 14,763 mph.
The DART mission will not just be testing the ability to redirect an asteroid. It will also test out newly designed solar arrays that will power the craft as it traverses deep space and an autopilot system that will allow the spacecraft to approach the asteroid at a speed of 15,840 mph. The probe will also provide the first-ever images and data from the moon of an asteroid.
"This incredible mission will use innovative technologies as it autonomously navigates toward the Didymos system, and it is an integral part of NASA's planetary defense program," Andrea Riley, DART program executive, said.