NASA Plays Space Shuffle Board With Rogue Asteroid Moon

A test of planetary defense

A spacecraft approaching two asteroids in space.
Illustration: NASA/Johns Hopkins, APL/Steve Gribben
Objects in Motion

This November, NASA is set to fulfill the dreams of anyone who has wanted to see galactic objects go smash when it shoots a spacecraft at an asteroid to try to change its trajectory.

This game of space billiards, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, is an experiment to see whether or not NASA can successfully prevent asteroids from crashing into Earth. According to CNN, this will be the space agency’s first full-scale demonstration of this kind of technology for the purpose of planetary defense.

The plan is to send DART initially aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the direction of the near-Earth asteroid Didymos. Didymos’s small moon, referred to as a cute little “moonlet,” will be the target for DART to collide into at a speed of 14,763.8 miles per hour next September. This approach is called the “kinetic impactor technique,” or as I would like to christen it, asteroidal smackdown.

According to NASA’s calculations, the collision should reduce the moonlet’s speed by about 1 percent, or a centimeter per second, which is apparently enough to change the floating rock’s orbit. And maybe one day… to save the planet. Best of luck to these brave scientists with their space game.