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NASA Rocket Is Now On Its Way to Dimorphos

Spacecraft has launched on mission to slam into asteroid, knock it off course
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 22, 2021 12:06 PM CST
Updated Nov 24, 2021 6:32 AM CST
Hey Dimorphos, NASA Is Coming for You
An illustration of NASA's DART spacecraft approaching the asteroid Dimorphos, at left.   (NASA)

(Newser) Update: NASA's experiment to have a spacecraft smash into an asteroid is underway, but we won't know if it's successful for about a year. The Guardian reports that the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, part of the agency's DART mission to slam into the Dimorphos space rock, launched Tuesday night from California's Vandenberg Space Force Base. The asteroid poses no threat to Earth, but NASA wants to see if the principle of altering its trajectory works—in case they ever need to do it for real. Our original story from Monday follows:

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NASA launches a spacecraft this week whose mission will end in a terrific crash if all goes well. As NPR explains, the space agency on Tuesday will send up a spacecraft for the sole purpose of smashing into an asteroid called Dimorphos. The idea is to push the asteroid off its trajectory in what NPR describes as the first real-world test of the principle. Dimorphos is millions of miles away and poses no threat to Earth, and NASA scientists swear there's no chance this test will change that. But the mission could provide valuable information should the day ever come when earthlings must try to ward off an asteroid that truly does pose a risk to the planet, per Space.com.

"So it's like a small golf cart running into a Great Pyramid," says Nancy Chabot of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. But because the spacecraft, small as it is, will be traveling at roughly 15,000mph, it should theoretically be able to nudge the asteroid off course. Scientists will monitor Dimorphos—which orbits the larger asteroid Didymos—after the collision to figure out whether it worked. The journey is part of NASA's DART mission, short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test. Assuming no glitches, the spacecraft should reach the asteroid in late 2022. (The test is part of a wider NASA mandate to better understand asteroids.)

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