NASA seeks to prevent earthbound objects from impacting the planet with new DART test

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As the number and frequency of near-Earth Earthbound asteroids increases, humans must prepare for the worst to ensure survival of the species

Scientists from the National Aeronautics Space Administration have been diligently working over the past few years on a plan to save Earth from asteroids. The 258 million dollar project headed up by the Johns Hopkins University of Applied Physics Laboratory located in Maryland aims to deflect killer asteroids that pose a threat to the planet..

It’s common knowledge among the scientific community that the dinosaurs went extinct following a massive asteroid strike. Researchers believe that the novel impact caused by a 7-mile-wide asteroid created deadly environmental effects that lasted for two decades. As a result, the nuclear winter-like calamity has ultimately paved the way for NASA developers to test the best methods to mitigate impending near-Earth Earthbound objects. 

NASA claims that there are 4 ways to mitigate an asteroid. Each circumstance is unique to itself. But the problem is determining which one is best. 

One method is nuclear obliteration. However, a nuclear package may not always be the wisest choice. 

“The concern with putting a nuke at the center of your asteroid or digging it in and blowing it up is that depending on the results you might end up blowing it apart but not enough for it to just kinda keep coming back together,” DART Investigation Team Leader Andy Rivkin told Vice News. “Up ’til now, we haven’t had too many options for what we might do if we found something that was incoming.”

“DART is kind of the first test of how we might be able to deflect something without having to resort to a nuclear package or just kind of sitting in our basements waiting it out,” he said. “So DART specifically is going to be basically a test of what we call a kinetic-impactor. This means that we are going to take our spacecraft and we are going to ram it into an asteroid. And we are going the momentum that we bring in with us to slightly change the orbit [of the object] around the sun.”

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test is currently scheduled for November 2021 and will mark a new moment in space history. The redirection test was originally scheduled for August. But the agency is now saying the test will take place sometime in November following delays.

“At NASA, mission success and safety are of the utmost importance, and after a careful risk assessment, it became clear DART could not feasibly and safely launch within the primary launch window,” an associate administrator for NASA said in a statement last month. “To ensure DART is poised for mission success, NASA directed the team to pursue the earliest possible launch opportunity during the secondary launch window to allow more time for DRACO testing and delivery of ROSA, and provide a safe working environment through the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The new launch window begins on November 24 and extends until February 15.

The project is the first of its kind and will help researchers piece together better methods to mitigate hazardous Earthbound objects in the future. “DART is a planetary defense-driven test of technologies for preventing an impact of Earth by a hazardous asteroid,” according to a statement released by the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. “DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space.”

“The binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos is the target for the DART demonstration,” the office reveals. “While the Didymos primary body is approximately 780 meters across, its secondary body (or “moonlet”) is about 160-meters in size, which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth.”

An impact of this scale has never been done before, the DART Investigation Team Leader explained. 

“The DART spacecraft will achieve the kinetic impact deflection by deliberately crashing itself into the moonlet at a speed of approximately 6.6 km/s, with the aid of an onboard camera (named DRACO) and sophisticated autonomous navigation software,” NASA claims. “The collision will change the speed of the moonlet in its orbit around the main body by a fraction of one percent, but this will change the orbital period of the moonlet by several minutes – enough to be observed and measured using telescopes on Earth.”

Withal, the mission has already piqued the interest of online conspiracy theorists who believe there could be more to the story than meets the eye. Not to mention, all of the action will spark the interest of terrestrial astronomers who will be eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of the test through their eyepiece.

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