NASA Successfully Crashes Spacecraft Into Asteroid

In what is described as the first test of a planetary defense system, NASA on Monday successfully crashed the DART probe into the Dimorphos asteroid.

The purpose of the collision was to see if crashing the golf cart-sized spacecraft into the asteroid would be enough to affect the orbit of Dimorphos around the Sun.

NASA’s chief scientist and senior climate advisor Katherine Calvin noted that the dinosaurs did not have a space program to protect them 65 million years ago when the Chicxulub asteroid slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula.

But “we do,” she added, and DART is important to understanding how to “protect our planet from potential impacts.”

The collision, while spectacular to behold, came between an object weighing 1,320 pounds traveling at 14,000 mph and an asteroid 534 feet wide.

Nancy Chabot, DART coordination lead at JHUAPL, which is overseeing the mission for NASA, compared it to “running a golf cart into the Great Pyramid.”

The mission, which carried a $313 million price tag, launched on Nov. 23, 2021. It crashed into the asteroid, which is shaped roughly like a football, at 7:14 p.m. ET on Monday, Sept. 26.

The staff at Johns Hopkins erupted in cheers when it was determined that DART hit its target only 17 meters from the asteroid’s center.

Controllers report the last four hours of the DART flight were mostly automated as it honed in on its target hurling towards the Sun. A photograph of Dimorphos was sent to Earth every second leading up to the crash.

The mission was to test what NASA calls a “kinetic impactor,” which is intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid with the hopes of changing its orbit.

It is possible, the agency says, if an celestial object is spotted five to 10 years before a potential collision with Earth.

The chances of an object the size of Dimorphos slamming into Earth are remote but far from unrealistic. NASA regularly tracks such objects through the Solar System and is constantly on alert for new ones.

While small impacts occur every day, it is the catastrophic collision that NASA and its fellow space agencies look to avert. And the stuff of science fiction — intentionally crashing a spacecraft into a celestial body to change its orbit — is once again transformed into science fact.