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Officials deem DART mission a success

Spacecraft intentionally crashed in to an asteroid to change it's orbit
Posted at 6:00 PM, Oct 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-18 20:47:52-04

You might call it the most publicized international collision since the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank over a century ago.

The double asteroid redirection test, or DART, was successfully completed late last month, and the data continues to stream in from seven million miles away in space.

I recently spoke with some of the experts at the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs about the "Save the Planet" experiment to better understand how this came together and what it accomplished.

The experiment, launched a year ago, was the brainchild of the Johns Hopkins Applied Science Lab in conjunction with NASA, the first planetary defense test to crash a spacecraft into an asteroid intentionally.

The DART spacecraft itself is a little bigger than the statue of liberty and was intentionally crashed into a small asteroid named Dimorphos, orbiting a larger asteroid, Didymos.

Amber Trujillo, the social media and marketing specialist at the Space Foundation, told me, "It's really incredible that we are able to target something, so precisely that is so small, so far away."

Pretty heady stuff, but perhaps no more important experiment when it comes to planetary defense, protecting our species against the ultimate attack.

There is a lot of junk floating around in space that could ultimately result in catastrophic consequences, particularly asteroids, if they enter our atmosphere and strike a heavily populated area.

In fact, there are an estimated 30,000 so-called "near earth" asteroids flying around, but the immediate threat is minimal. Trujillo says, "None of them are a huge threat right now, but there's about 30 discovered each week, and so we're trying to think ahead of time."

The goal of the experiment was to slow the orbit of Dimorphos, and its 12-hour orbit around Didymos, by just 73 seconds, and every second can mean the difference between life and death.

Trujillo told me, "Even though it's a few seconds, it makes up a lot of difference along the trajectory, and it will miss Earth. So even though it's minuscule, in the long run, it turns out to be huge."

The collision was a success, and now the process begins to analyze the data.

Photos and some preliminary information has been gathered through telescopic review from multiple stations on earth that will tell scientists if the timing of the orbit was thrown off.

The information could reveal the size of the crater and what the asteroid is made of, which Trujillo says is critical information moving forward.

"They didn't really know what Dimorphos was made of and this will, you know, send this data back to analyze it and understand in the future how those kinds of metals and elements will be able to effect the change in orbit because every asteroid is a little bit different," she told me.

While this whole mission might seem like something out of a movie, it's not science fiction. Scientists from around the world are fixed on this experiment and the aftermath, international cooperation before, during, and after the DART mission.

U.S. Space Command here in Colorado Springs is also partnering with NASA, providing capabilities to assist in this legitimate threat to planetary defense.

Trujillo and mission scientists agree, "It's not a question of if; it's a question of when."

Initial results from analysis of the collision show the experiment worked. NASA says the team would have considered a ten-minute difference in its orbit a success, but DART actually shortened the asteroid's orbit by more than a half hour.

Now, a follow-up mission, named "Hera," named after the ancient greek queen of gods, is expected to launch in October of 2024, aiming to arrive at Dimorphos in 2026 to measure the exact impact DART had on the asteroid.