NASA’s First Planetary Defense Mission Deemed a Success

According to agency officials, NASA successfully altered the orbit of an asteroid last month in a groundbreaking test mission that seems like something out of a sci-fi movie. But the very real project, which underwent seven years of development and took over $300M in funding, proves just how far humanity has come since the agency’s inception in 1958. 

“This is a watershed moment for planetary defense and a watershed moment for humanity,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said on Tuesday.

NASA’s DART–the Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft–was the heroic spacecraft employed in order to test the agency’s capability of disrupting the orbit of a celestial body. The refrigerator-sized DART barrelled through 7 million miles of space before colliding with its target on Sept. 27. On the receiving end of that collision was the asteroid Dimorphos, a football stadium-sized asteroid that is the moon of bigger space rock. DART was traveling at an estimated 13,000 MPH at the time of impact.

NASA confirmed that the collision worked; according to Nelson, it changed the trajectory of Dimorphos by comparing the length of its orbit before and after impact. 

“It was expected to be [a] huge success if it only slowed by 10 minutes,” Nelson said. “It was a bull’s eye.”

While Dimorphos does not pose a threat to the planet, the success of DART’s orbital interference provides critical insight into our future options for protecting Earth should a life-threatening meteor ever head our way.

“All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet,” Nelson said. “After all, it’s the only one we have […] This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us.”

Giorgio Saccoccia, president of the Italian Space Agency and a partner on the mission, celebrated the success.

“This is something we can really be proud of as an international endeavor,” he said. “I think our planet can feel a bit safer for the future.”

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