NASA launches 'Armageddon' spacecraft to crash into asteroid

NASA has launched the world’s first “full-scale mission” to test asteroid-deflecting technology in hopes of protecting Earth from potential “Armageddon.”

The space agency said in a statement the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) lifted off late Tuesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Vanderberg Space Force Base in California.

The mission of the $330 million project is to slam into a 530-foot asteroid, Dimorphos, at about 15,000 mph in late September 2022 to test a potential method of defense against potentially catastrophic asteroid or comet hazards.

The project is “something of a replay of Bruce Willis’ movie, ‘Armageddon,’ although that was totally fictional,” NASA’s administrator, Bill Nelson, told the New York Times.

In the 1998 Michael Bay film, Willis and Ben Affleck starred as oil drillers on a space mission to destroy a giant asteroid on a collision course with the earth.

Scientists estimate DART’s impact into Dimorphos — which orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos — will shorten its path around the bigger space rock by several minutes.

“Researchers will precisely measure that change using telescopes on Earth,” NASA’s statement continued. “Their results will validate and improve scientific computer models critical to predicting the effectiveness of the kinetic impact as a reliable method for asteroid deflection.”

Nelson said NASA was turning science fiction into “science fact” with the historic launch.

While there isn’t a currently known asteroid on an impact course toward Earth, NASA hopes to identify any possible impact years or decades in advance, according to Lindley Johnson, the agency’s planetary defense officer.

“DART is one aspect of NASA’s work to prepare Earth should we ever be faced with an asteroid hazard,” Lindley said.

NASA is also prepping its Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission, a space-based infrared telescope set for launch later this decade to identify potentially hazardous asteroids and comets within 30 million miles of Earth’s orbit.

“Asteroid Dimorphos: we’re coming for you,” NASA tweeted, complete with a 30-second clip of liftoff.

There are no known asteroid hazards to Earth for at least 100 years, but NASA is testing the “kinetic impactor technique” in case such a need arises.

“You can rest easy,” the agency tweeted. “We’re going to hit a small moonlet the size of a football stadium with a spacecraft the size of a vending machine. We hope to change its orbit a tiny bit, but it will stay in orbit around its parent asteroid, which is not a hazard to Earth.”

DART should reach Dimorphos sometime between Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, 2022, while about 6.8 million milles from Earth, NASA said.

Some 55 minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft separated itself from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to start orienting itself toward the sun, video shows.

“This isn’t going to destroy the asteroid,” said mission official Nancy Chabot of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is overseeing DART. “It’s just going to give it a small nudge.”

With Post wires

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