A multimillion-dollar spacecraft collided head-on with an asteroid the size of a football stadium on Monday in an unprecedented test of NASA’s ability to protect Earth from a doomsday scenario.

NASA’s spacecraft successfully slams into asteroid Dimorphos 6.8 miles from Earth. The mission, known as Dart (Double Asteroid Redirection Test), was humanity’s first attempt to move another celestial body to see if a large asteroid heading toward our planet could be successfully redirected.

The spacecraft collided with the asteroid at 15,000 mph at 7:14 PM EDT. Live video showed a debris-strewn surface looming over the asteroid in focus before the spacecraft collided and the flight control room erupted in cheers. NASA and Johns Hopkins University science teams hug each other as Dart’s successful impact on Dimorphos is confirmed.

NASA crashes Dart spacecraft into asteroid during ‘planetary defense test’ – video

Shortly after the impact, Laurie Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, announced the beginning of a “new era for humanity.”

“[It’s] an era where we potentially have the ability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous asteroid impact,” Glaze said. “What an amazing thing. We’ve never had this opportunity before.”

Samson Reoni, a mission commentator at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, was equally excited about the “game-changing” achievement. “It’s when science and technology and the big goal, planetary protection, come together and, you know, it creates such a magical moment,” he said.

The test aims to determine whether deliberately colliding a spacecraft with an asteroid is an effective way to alter its trajectory. A relatively similar strategy, using a nuclear missile rather than an unmanned spacecraft, failed during a pivotal moment in Morgan Freeman’s fictional 1998 planetary disaster film Deep impact.

At a post-mission press conference, Dart scientists described the mission as a success, but warned that it will be about two months before they know whether the spacecraft succeeded in its ultimate goal of changing the trajectory of Dimorphos.

They hailed Monday as the “perfect result” of the first phase of the planetary defense test. Dart deputy program manager Elena Adams said Dart had “essentially hit the bull’s eye” on the asteroid.

“We knew we were going to hit. We all held our breath. I’m surprised none of us passed out.’

She said the ship landed 17 meters from the target; close enough to represent complete success. “It was basically a bullseye. I think that, as far as we can tell, the first test of planetary defense was a success, and we can applaud that.’

Whether the force of the impact was enough to move the asteroid remains to be seen, and scientists will monitor the asteroid’s speed and motion in the coming weeks and make calculations. Despite this, Adams said, “Earthlings should sleep better, and I certainly will.”

NASA’s mission represents the first attempt to move another celestial body. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The scientists insisted that the Dart would not destroy the Dimorphos. The spacecraft weighed a paltry 1,260 pounds (570 kilograms), compared to the asteroid’s 11 billion pounds (5 billion kilograms).. NASA spokesman Glenn Nagle said that Dart’s planned self-destruction does not pose a threat to humanity.

Nagle said Monday’s test was the first in a series of “missions to protect the planet.”

“We want to have a better chance than the dinosaurs had 65 million years ago,” Nagle said, referring to the theory that the prehistoric reptiles that once dominated Earth died out when an asteroid hit the planet.

Nagle added: “All they could do was look up and say, ‘Oh, an asteroid.'”

Although none of the known asteroids larger than 459 feet (140 meters) have a significant chance of hitting Earth within the next century, only an estimated 40% of these asteroids have been identified so far.

The $325 million planetary defense test is the culmination of a journey that began with Dart’s launch last fall. The possibility for Earthlings to watch the clash with Dimorphos live on the Internet, or at least with a delay of a few minutes, is due to the fact that NASA calls the mission’s own “mini-photographer” LiciaCube (short for Light Italian CubeSat for Asteroid Imaging).

Mission chiefs expressed their “absolute joy” to witness the successful impact in real time.

Ralph Semel, director of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, hailed the “transformational” nature of what had just been achieved, adding that his team knew they had succeeded when the video disappeared. “Normally losing a signal from a spacecraft is a very bad thing. But in this case it was the perfect result.”

Reuters and the Associated Press reported

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