After nearly a year in transit, NASA’s experimental Twin Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) mission, which sought to answer the questions: “Could you potentially push an asteroid off its planet-killing trajectory by hitting it with a specially designed satellite? How about a few ?” successfully collided with the asteroid Dimorphos. Results and data from the collision are still coming in, but NASA ground control confirms that the DART strike vehicle intercepted the target asteroid. Yes, of course, Dimorphos is roughly the size of an American football stadium, but space is both very big and very dark, and both the asteroid and the spacecraft were moving pretty fast at the time.


“This was a successful completion of the first part of the world’s first planetary defense test,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said after the impact. “I believe this will teach us how to one day protect our own planet from an approaching asteroid.” We are showing that planetary protection is a global endeavor and it is very possible to save our planet.”

NASA launched the DART mission in November 2021 in an effort to explore the use of defensive satellites as a means of protecting the planet against near-Earth objects. The vending machine-sized DART impact vehicle was traveling at approximately 14,000 MPH when it fatally crossed the path of Dimorphos nearly 68 million miles from Earth.

It remains to be seen whether future iterations of a planetary defense system complete with satellites ready to fight all June Bug vs. Chrysler Windshield against real planet killer asteroids. Dimorphos itself is the smaller of a pair of gravitationally entangled asteroids — its host rock is more than five times larger — but both are smaller than the space rock that struck Earth 66 million years ago, wiping out 75 percent of the planet’s multicellular life , while carving out the Gulf of Mexico.

The moment of DART's death


The DART team will likely look at data generated by both the impactor and cameras launched before the spacecraft makes its final approach for days. However, the team would consider shortening Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos by 10 minutes as an ideal result, although any change of at least 73 seconds would be hailed as a rousing success. The team will need to observe Dimorphos’ orbit for half a day to confirm its success, as the moon needs nearly 12 hours to complete a lap around Didymos.

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