Illustration of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission and its target, Dimorphos, a moonlet of the asteroid Didymos. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben
By Robin George Andrews
Our planet is vulnerable to thousands of “city-killer” space rocks. If—when—one is found on a collision course with Earth, will we be ready to deflect it?
Back when Andy Rivkin was in college, he had a few friends in medical school. “I was like, oh man, I don’t want do anything that has too much responsibility,” he says. Instead, he looked to the stars. “Astronomy seemed pretty safe.” And, for a while, it was. Rather than having to make decisions about someone’s root canal or abdominal surgery, he watched worlds flit about in the darkness.
But Rivkin, a planetary astronomer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Baltimore, has found himself with more responsibility than he expected. Along with hundreds of others, he is part of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, an ambitious effort led by NASA and the APL to slam an uncrewed spacecraft into an asteroid to change its orbit. This is a dry run for the real deal: one day, a technological descendant of DART could be used to deflect a planet-threatening space rock, saving millions—perhaps billions—of lives in the process.
On November 23, DART will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. Sometime next fall, it will smash into its target at 24,000 kilometers per hour. Ground-based astronomers like Rivkin will watch the rendezvous unfold with bated breath, hoping to see the telltale signs of success: a dust cloud, and an asteroid dancing to humanity’s tune for the very first time. Will it work?
Continue reading… “NASA’s DART Mission Could Help Cancel an Asteroid Apocalypse”