NASA asteroid redirection mission closing in on launch

DART is space agency’s first ‘planetary defense mission’

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – You would think it’s science fiction, but it’s real.

NASA plans to deliberately strike an asteroid during its Double-Asteroid Redirection Test.

The minds behind the DART spacecraft call themselves “planetary defenders.”

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Coordination Lead Nancy Chabot said the first test will be done before an asteroid one day might be discovered to be on a collision course with Earth.

The test will prove if the school-bus-sized spacecraft can deflect a moon of an asteroid about the size of two football fields.

‘’This isn’t going to destroy the asteroid,’’ Chabot said. ‘’It’s just going to give it a small nudge.’’

NASA said an Armageddon-like scenario is nothing to be afraid of right now. There is no asteroid headed toward Earth as big as the one NASA picked.

‘’The key to planetary defense is finding them well before they are an impact threat,’’ Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson said.

DART not only has to hit the asteroid, NASA also expects the mission to collect impact data.

Before the 1,100-pound DART crashes into the asteroid at 15,000 mph, a secondary spacecraft, a small CubeSat, will separate from DART to capture the impact with its cameras.

“CubeSats are a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites,” according to NASA. The tiny cubes are built to standard dimensions of 10-centimeters-by-10-centimeters-by-10-centimeters and are used to collect data, such as photos and information from this asteroid-nudging mission.

‘’And if one day an asteroid is discovered on a collision course with Earth, we will have an idea how much momentum we need to make that asteroid miss the Earth,’’ Investigation Team Lead Andy Cheng said.

The space agency’s first planetary defense mission could launch as soon as Nov. 24 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in California.

NASA said DART should make impact with the asteroid next fall.

About the Author:

James joined News 6 in March 2016 as the Brevard County Reporter. His arrival was the realization of a three-year effort to return to the state where his career began. James is from Pittsburgh, PA and graduated from Penn State in 2009 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.