NASA Launches Rocket to Collide With Asteroid

Sharon Renee Universal /
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Colliding with a massive asteroid might sound like a suicide mission. But when it comes to NASA, they're not too concerned. In fact, the national space program recently launched a spacecraft to do just that. Here's why the mission is set to make history, and change the course of our future in the process.

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On Tuesday, November 23, all eyes were on California's Vandenberg Space Force Base as NASA's latest mission roared to life - literally. With the help of SpaceX's Falcon 9 spacecraft, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) was officially launched into space. As for what the rocket will be doing while millions of miles above?

Roughly 9 minutes after liftoff, the next step of the mission was already well underway: NASA's droneship, situated in the Pacific Ocean, welcomed the arrival of the SpaceX booster that launched DART into space. Now, NASA will wait for an "acquisition of signal," alerting researchers that DART is safely on its way to its target destination: a massive asteroid.

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As NASA explained, the probe will make its way to Dimorphos, a moonlet circling a much larger asteroid known as Didymos. Upon touchdown, DART will intentionally collide with the mass. And while neither asteroid pose a current threat to planet Earth, the deliberate attack is anything but random.

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As astronomers explained, they are hopeful the project will help make major headway in the scientific community. "What we’re trying to learn is how to deflect a threat," NASA’s lead scientist Thomas Zuburchen elaborated of the estimated $330 million mission. With roughly 10,000 known asteroids near our planet, scientists are wary of the threat they pose to humanity.

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"The chances of getting hit again by an asteroid is far from science fiction," scientist Essam Heggy explained to Al Jazeera. "Asteroids 100 metres and greater are a threat to the Earth, and we need to quantify our deflection capability to these threats." While the DART rocket is set to officially attack the asteroid in 2022, be sure to stay tuned. A lot can happen by then...