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NASA's Dart Mission

Don't want to go out like the dinosaurs? NASA has brewed up a planetary defence system, as described by Editorial Assistant, Zoe van der Merwe, what it means and how it can change the world.


After a ten-month journey through space, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft successfully made impact with its asteroid target on Monday the 26th of September 7:14 pm EDT. The DART mission is a world first demonstration of a planetary defence system and marks what Lori Glaze, NASA’s planetary science division director declares, a “new era of mankind” [1].


So, what exactly is the DART Mission?


As a part of NASA’s planetary defence strategy, the DART spacecraft deliberately collided with the asteroid Dimorphos. While the asteroid is no threat to Earth, this intentional collision aimed to test if a large asteroid could be successfully diverted using kinetic impact and defend Earth from any future hazardous asteroid collisions. Live streamed video of the mission showed the asteroid’s surface slowly come into focus before the spacecraft hit and cheers erupted from the control room [2].


The mission itself marked significant milestones for the agency. APL Director Ralph Semmel said, “This first-of-its-kind mission required incredible preparation and precision, and the team exceeded expectations on all counts” [3]. Indeed, DART coordination lead Nancy Chabot also declared, “This was a really hard technology demonstration to hit a small asteroid we’ve never seen before [but it was done] in such spectacular fashion” [4].


Australia also played a part, aiding in the mission’s final moments. CSIRO engineers at New Norcia in Western Australia used their 35-metre antenna to monitor the spacecraft and send last minute instructions from mission control at NASA.


Following the collision at the post-mission press conference, DART scientists hailed the planetary defence test a success, stating it was the “ideal outcome” [5]. Over the next two months, they will continue to monitor data and complete calculations to measure the orbital change of Dimorphos and determine if the spacecraft had enough force to change the asteroid’s trajectory. Despite this however, the mission is still a considerable technological success and marks a monumental change in NASA’s planetary defence plans.


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