Washington, Sep 26 (EFE).- NASA on Monday successfully crashed a spacecraft the size of a vending machine into a football stadium-sized asteroid in order to deflect it in the world’s first planetary defense test.
At 7.14 pm EDT (23:14 GMT), the space agency’s DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft crashed head-on into the asteroid Dimorphos at about 15,000 mph about 11 million kilometers from Earth.
“We have impact! (…) What a watershed moment for planetary defense and all of humanity!” tweeted NASA administrator Bill Nelson.
Although the impact could be seen on NASA’s live broadcast, scientists may have to wait about two months to see if the now-destroyed unmanned spacecraft has managed to alter the asteroid’s orbit. Earth-bound telescopes will monitor the asteroid’s speed and movement.
It is the first time in human history that an attempt has been made to change the trajectory of a celestial body in a test with the aim to in future protect the Earth from asteroids similar to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
“We’re embarking on a new era of humankind, an era in which we potentially have the capability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous hazardous asteroid impact,” NASA’s planetary science division director Lori Gaze said after impact.
“What an amazing thing. We’ve never had that capability before.”
The DART spacecraft was about the same size as a refrigerator or a food vending machine, and cost more than $330 million to build.
Dimorphos is an asteroid 160 meters in diameter that orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos, 780 meters in diameter. Together they form a double asteroid system and were selected by NASA because they pose no threat to Earth.
A small satellite developed by the Italian Space Agency followed the operation from a distance to take images of the impact and send them to scientists for evaluation.
NASA does not have any object on its radar that could pose a direct threat to Earth over the next 100 years. EFE