A REVOLUTIONARY NASA spacecraft is on a suicide mission that could save the future of humanity.
The Double Asteroid Redirect (DART) mission will crash into an asteroid 11 million miles from Earth tonight.
The ambitious project – involving teams from NASA and the European Space Agency – is testing technology to prevent Earth from colliding with a killer asteroid.
If successful, it could pave the way for a new planetary defense system that could deflect incoming space rocks before impact.
The test is scheduled for 19:14 EST (Tuesday 0:14 UK time) on Monday 26 September.
NASA will take pictures of the impact with a small satellite that will send the pictures back to Earth about 24 hours later.
The scheme depicts the plot of the 1998 blockbuster Armageddon, in which NASA sends a spacecraft to an asteroid to stop it from colliding with Earth.
“DART will be the first demonstration of a kinetic impactor method to alter the motion of an asteroid in space,” NASA said on its website.
The DART spacecraft consists of a box-shaped body about twice the size of a washing machine, flanked by two 18-meter-long solar panels.
On November 24, 2021, it launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
It took DART nine months to reach the binary near-Earth asteroid Didymos, which is 11 million miles from its home planet.
Didymos is about 740 meters across and lies between the orbits of Earth and Mars. This is not the primary objective of the mission.
Instead, NASA’s intrepid battering ram will target a smaller asteroid — or moon — in the close orbit of Didymas.
DART slams into a space rock at 15,000 miles per hour in an attempt to change its orbital path around its host.
After the DART hits the target, NASA and ESA will train telescopes on Earth on it to test whether the scheme worked.
A tiny probe launched with the mission will collect data before, during and after impact.
“The DART spacecraft will achieve kinetic impact deflection by deliberately crashing into the moon at approximately 6.6 km/s using an onboard camera (called DRACO) and sophisticated autonomous navigation software,” NASA says.
“The collision will change the speed of the rover in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent.
“This will change the lunar rover’s orbital period by a few minutes—enough to observe and measure with telescopes on Earth.”
Space specialists have already identified at least 26,000 so-called “terrestrial objects”.
An estimated 4,700 meet NASA’s classification as “potentially hazardous objects”.
That means they are over 500 feet across, fly 4.7 million miles from Earth, and can cause devastating damage if they collide.
Didymos is not considered a threat to our planet, but DART promises to help NASA and ESA build a system to protect Earth from any space rocks that might get too close for comfort in the future.
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