NASA’s DART Mission

NASA’s DART Mission

Picture by Samantha Redifer

Around 65 million years ago, the age of the dinosaurs on Earth came to an end. While there are still some disagreements about how this mass extinction happened, the consensus among scientists and researchers is that an extraterrestrial collision brought the dinosaurs to their demise. This collision is believed to be caused by a 6-mile-wide asteroid or comet that released so much energy it wiped out everything.

While another disastrous collision is not very likely to happen anytime soon, the odds are never zero. However, with all of the technological advances over the years, there must be something we can do to destroy or redirect an asteroid that might be heading toward Earth, right? Engineers and scientists at NASA and other space programs have thought of this question as well, but unlike us, they have the resources to do something about it. And that’s exactly what they did by creating the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Program, which involves using a spacecraft to redirect an asteroid by kinetic impact.

The DART spacecraft is about the size of a refrigerator, while the asteroid it crashed into – Dimorphos – is larger than the Statue of Liberty at around 534 feet in width. After orbiting for ten months in space, the DART spacecraft successfully hit its target on September 26, 2022, at 14,760 miles per hour. The goal was to shorten the asteroid’s orbit (Dimorphos is orbiting another enormous asteroid, Didymos) by about one percent, which would be about ten minutes, to try and change the path it travels. To see if the mission succeeded, telescopes on Earth will observe and measure if the impact changed Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos. 

Even if the impact didn’t change the asteroid’s orbit, it is still a revolutionary feat. The spacecraft located the two asteroids that are 6.8 million miles from the Earth and distinguished them from each other, so it made an impact with Dimorphos instead of Didymos. This was thanks to its advanced navigation software resulting from collaboration not only between NASA but also different organizations across the world. This international cooperation was necessary, as an extraterrestrial threat wouldn’t just impact one country, but the entire globe.

The successful impact of the DART spacecraft is a historical event. It shows that we, as humans, can potentially have the power to save the planet using sophisticated technology.