by Livia Lawrence

In November of 2021, NASA launched a rocket into outer space in the world’s first ever test of a planetary defense tactic. It was programmed to collide with asteroid Dimorphous, in an attempt to knock it out of its orbit.

This September, the rocket hit Dimorphous head on, and team members began their work to determine if the mission was successful. On October 11 it was revealed that not only had the orbit of Dimorphous changed, but it had been much more successful than they ever expected.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, was the first mission of its kind. With an estimated cost of $313.9 million, and a team of 556 dedicated members, this mission was a huge step towards the ability to defend Earth from hazardous objects from outer space.

The mission began on November 24, 2021, 1:20am EST, when rocket SpaceX Falcon 9 was launched from Space Launch Complex 4, Vandenberg Space force base, California. Unlike other rockets, which were designed to return to Earth, Falcon 9 was intended to collide with an asteroid. Dimorphous, located 6.8 million miles from Earth, posed no threat. This collision served solely as a test, to see if it was possible to change the orbit of an asteroid by hitting it with a rocket.

This mission had to succeed in two ways: colliding with the asteroid, and significantly changing its trajectory. The first success occurred on September 26, 2022, 7:14 pm EST. At this time, the rocket collided with Dimorphous, completing the first step. The impact was live-streamed by NASA until the rocket hit, shattering to pieces. A camera attached to the rocket allowed the team to see everything that was happening, and they could be seen bursting into applause and cheering when the collision was successful. Hugs and high fives were exchanged between members, and reporters on the mission began expressing their views on the great success.

The celebration didn’t last long, however, because the team had to get right back to work. The asteroid was hit, but now they had to determine if its orbit was changed. According to the NASA TOPD (Team of Planetary Defense), the mission would be considered a success if the orbit was changed by at least 73 seconds. On October 11, they realized just how successful the mission had been. Dimorphous’s orbit had been altered by 32 minutes, 25 times the benchmark amount. With this information, the mission was considered a success, and the team went back to the drawing board to discuss what will come next.

There will be many steps to come, but one is a mission they are currently working on. The team for this mission are developing a new telescope called the Near-Earth Object Surveyor, which will seek out hazardous asteroids in Earth’s solar system. This telescope would allow scientists to know when planetary defense is necessary, if it ever is, and then use a tactic based on the DART to redirect said asteroid.

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