NASA launched a spacecraft on Wednesday with a simple mission: smash an asteroid at 15,000 miles per hour.
The mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, left Earth to test whether slamming a spacecraft into an asteroid could make it go on a different trajectory. The test results, if successful, will come in handy if NASA and other space agencies ever need to deflect an asteroid to save Earth and prevent a catastrophic impact.
The DART spacecraft took off at 10:21 p.m. Eastern Time (or 10:21 p.m. local time) on Wednesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The rocket took off into space before sending its reusable booster back into the ocean to land on SpaceX’s drone ship. It will take about an hour to put the spacecraft into orbit, and a few hours after it will hoist solar panels to power the vehicle during its journey.
If the night sky isn’t very cloudy, NASA has provided a guide to where people in Southern California can watch the spacecraft exit the atmosphere.
NASA is crashing a dart into an asteroid for the first time to test a method of planetary defense that could one day save a city, or perhaps an entire planet, from a catastrophic asteroid impact.
“DART” is a replay of the Bruce Willis film Armageddon, although it was entirely fictional, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in an interview.
If everything goes according to plan with Dart, NASA will have a surefire weapon in its planetary defense arsenal. Should an isolated asteroid ever come on a collision course with Earth, the world’s space agencies would be led to believe that an asteroid missile like Dart would sweep the space rock away.