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Star Wars: NASA set to test planetary asteroid defense system

This is what “saving the planet” really looks like

(National SentinelSpace: Just like something straight out of a science fiction movie, NASA is planning to conduct a test of a sort-of planetary defense system aimed at destroying Earth-bound asteroids before they strike.

As reported by CNN (and since it’s not about the Trump administration, we were inclined to believe it), the program is called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), and on Friday the U.S. space agency announced plans to redirect the course of a small asteroid approaching Earth.

Our planet is buffeted by space rocks and other debris daily, but most of those asteroids are small enough to burn up upon entering our atmosphere:

But the DART project — a joint effort between NASA and the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland — is for the asteroids that are too big to break up — those that could have severe consequences for the Earth if they hit.

“DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique — striking the asteroid to shift its orbit — to defend against a potential future asteroid impact,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer in Washington, in the press release.

“This approval step advances the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid.”

The target of the test is an asteroid system called Didymos, the release said. Didymos — Greek for “twin” — is a binary asteroid system, made up of one asteroid, Didymos A, and a smaller one, Didymos B, which orbits its larger neighbor.

In October 2022, as Didymos makes an approach near Earth, NASA will launch a refrigerator-sized spacecraft towards the asteroids, aimed at Didymos B, the release said. When the DART spacecraft and the asteroid collide, the spacecraft will be traveling at a staggering 3.7 miles per second.

“The kinetic impact technique works by changing the speed of a threatening asteroid by a small fraction of its total velocity,” the release says, “but by doing it well before the predicted impact so that this small nudge will add up over time to a big shift of the asteroid’s path away from Earth.

Okay, so we’re not yet at the point of putting powerful lasers into orbit around the planet, but clearly our space program is concerned enough about asteroids it is working to devise a suitable interim defensive system.

This is what “saving the planet” really looks like.

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