In the first planetary defence test, NASA’s spacecraft collides with an asteroid

Ten months after DART’s launch, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) broadcast the first attempt by humans to modify the velocity of an asteroid or other celestial objects from the mission operations center outside Washington, D.C.

NASA’s DART spacecraft successfully collided with a distant asteroid at hypersonic speed on Monday, marking the world’s first test of a planetary defense system designed to avoid a catastrophic meteorite impact with Earth.

The Livestream displayed images captured by DART’s camera as the cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle, no larger than a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays, streaked into the asteroid Dimorphos, roughly the size of a football stadium, at 7:14 p.m. EDT (23:14 GMT) approximately 6.8 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth.

DART, launched by a SpaceX rocket in November 2021, was guided by NASA’s flight directors for most of its journey before an autonomous onboard navigation system took over for the final few hours.

The mission operations center of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, watched the impact of the target on Monday evening in near real-time.

The control room erupted in applause as second-by-second images of the target asteroid obtained by DART’s onboard camera grew more prominent and eventually covered the screen of NASA’s live webcast seconds before the signal was lost, confirming that the spacecraft had collided with Dimorphous.

The seven-year, $330 million mission was designed to discover if a spaceship can alter an asteroid’s trajectory through sheer kinetic energy, thereby protecting Earth.