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With tonight's launch, NASA starts getting serious about planetary defense

Added 11-23-21 04:10:03pm EST - “"I believe we have a planetary defense program that is worth talking about now."” - Arstechnica.com

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Posted By TheNewsCommenter: From Arstechnica.com: “With tonight’s launch, NASA starts getting serious about planetary defense”. Below is an excerpt from the article.

Weather permitting, a Falcon 9 rocket will launch a key asteroid-deflection mission for NASA on Tuesday night from California. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART mission, will seek to demonstrate the capability to change an asteroid's orbit next year.

Powered by ion thrusters, the 700-kg spacecraft aims to rendezvous with a double asteroid next October. Once there, the spacecraft will attempt to collide with Dimorphos, a small "moonlet" of a larger asteroid named Didymos. DART will strike Dimorphos at a rate a little greater than 6.6 km/s, aiming to slightly alter the trajectory of the asteroid, which measures approximately 170 meters across.

If NASA successfully completes this test, it will have demonstrated the capability to, one day, deflect an incoming asteroid on a collision course with Earth. "We're trying to show that we can mitigate a threat like this," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's chief of science, in an interview with Ars.

Planetary defense is the tracking and potential deflection of hazardous asteroids, comets, and other large bodies that might strike Earth. In public surveys, planetary defense always ranks highly among choices of what NASA should focus on, and the US Congress has asked the space agency to identify all asteroids with a diameter of 140 meters or greater. That is an object large enough to destroy a city on Earth.

However, until about five years ago, NASA had made limited progress toward these goals. There were always bigger priorities for the space agency. And truth be told, the odds were in NASA's favor. There are no known asteroids that threaten to strike Earth during the next century. And while rogue asteroids are possible, humanity can more than likely afford to wait centuries to fully address the issue. In all of recorded history, in fact, there has yet to be a human death credibly attributed to an asteroid strike.

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