NASA says spacecraft 'on track' to slam into asteroid in hopes of redirecting it
Small device predicted to destabilize rock's trajectory enough to alter its course.
NASA this week said a small spacecraft it launched last year is "on track" to slam into a nearby asteroid in what scientists hope will be the first successful test of asteroid-redirection technology.
Space experts have long stressed the need for humanity to learn how to deflect space rocks from potential orbital paths in which Earth could be a target. Astronomers say asteroids are among the more significant extinction-level threats that humanity could face, with a large-enough impactor potentially threatening most of life on the planet.
Officials with NASA this week said the first such test of deflection technology looks likely to proceed on Monday. The space agency's Double Asteroid Redirection Test launched in November of last year with the intention of altering the course of near-Earth asteroid Didymos.
"At this point, I can say that the team is ready," DART project manager Edward Reynolds said in a media briefing on Thursday. "The ground systems are ready, and the spacecraft is healthy and on track for an impact on Monday."
DART is actually projected to impact Didymos's small orbital "moonlet" Dimorphos, in the hopes that doing so will consequently wobble Didymos's trajectory enough to significantly alter its course.
Archeological records show that asteroids have impacted the Earth on many occasions millions of years in the past. Most notably, a large impactor that struck the planet roughly 66 million years ago was found to have resulted in massive cataclysmic ecological changes that brought about the death of most dinosaurs.
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