NASA Glenn Research Center plays role in humanity’s first-ever asteroid deflecting mission

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Posted at 1:46 PM, Nov 25, 2021

CLEVELAND — NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), the world’s first full-scale technology for defending the Earth again potential asteroid or comet hazards, launched Wednesday while many of us were still sleeping. It turns out, Northeast Ohio played a role in the mission.

“DART is turning science fiction into science fact and is a testament to NASA’s proactivity and innovation for the benefit of all,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “In addition to all the ways NASA studies our universe and our home planet, we’re also working to protect that home, and this test will help prove out one viable way to protect our planet from a hazardous asteroid should one ever be discovered that is headed toward Earth.”

The goal is to slightly change the asteroid’s motion in a way that is can be accurately measured using ground-based technologies. DART’s one-way trip is to the Didymos asteroid system, which comprises a pair of asteroids. DART’s target is the moonlet, Dimorphos, which is approximately 530 feet in diameter, according to NASA.

"So it's more of a nudge than a shove. Just that little bit of change adds up over time so that the Earth has a chance to get out of the way of any incoming threat," said John Armand, of NASA.

The DART mission will help NASA figure out how effective deflecting an asteroid strike would be, but it involves high-tech equipment.

“It's actually got technology called smart nav, which uses imagers and star trackers and an array of sensors to go out there and find the asteroid," said Armand.

In addition to the navigation system, DART used a solar-powered ion propulsion system developed at NASA Glenn Research Center.

DART launched on Space X Falcon at 1:21 a.m. Wednesday. It will be 10 months before researchers know if it worked, so mark your calendar for September 2022.

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