The idea of an asteroid hitting Earth is a scary thought, and the inspiration for numerous films and other media, even if it’s not likely to happen for a very long time. To get well ahead of possible doomsday, NASA and SpaceX are launching a spacecraft straight at an asteroid in an attempt to slam into it and redirect it—the first time this has been attempted in history.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, will fly to an asteroid system called Didymos that contains two orbiting rocks. When it gets there in late 2022, the spacecraft will slam into the smaller of the two, Dimorphos. The change in trajectory from a successful impact will be small initially, but the idea is that over time it will end up becoming a significant deviation. DART itself is a bullet: besides its propulsion equipment it holds some sensors and a camera, and that’s it. It’s designed to slam into something.
“DART is the first test of how we might be able to deflect something without having to resort to a nuclear package, or sitting in our basements, waiting it out, and crossing our fingers,” Andy Rivkin, a planetary astronomer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the investigation team lead for DART, said on Motherboard’s “Space Show” earlier this year.
The mission is set to launch early on Wednesday morning on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It’s a real night owl sort of affair, with liftoff taking place at 1:21 AM EST, with a backup launch window planned for 24 hours later if unfavorable weather scuttles the launch.