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NASA spacecraft hits asteroid in defense system test

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Traversing the solar system at hypersonic speed on Monday, NASA’s Dart spacecraft slammed into a distant asteroid in a test of the world‘s first planetary defense system designed to avoid a potential meteorite collision with Earth.

The end of the suicide spaceflight, humanity’s first attempt to alter the motion of an asteroid or any celestial body, came in a NASA broadcast from the mission’s operations center outside Washington, D.C., 10 months after the launch of the spacecraft. Dart.

The live stream showed footage taken by Dart’s own camera of the cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle, no bigger than a vending machine with two rectangular solar panels, scratched into the football stadium-sized asteroid Dimorphos, around 8 pm Brasília time about 11 million km from Earth.

The mission was designed to determine whether a spacecraft is capable of changing an asteroid’s trajectory through sheer kinetic force, deflecting it off course just enough to keep our planet out of harm’s way.

The test result will not be known until further ground observations of the asteroid next month. But NASA officials hailed the immediate result of Monday’s experiment, saying the spacecraft appeared to have performed as planned.

The Dart, launched by a SpaceX rocket in November 2021, made most of its voyage under the guidance of NASA flight directors, with control handed over to an onboard autonomous navigation system in the final hours of the voyage.

Monday night’s impact was monitored in near real-time from the mission’s operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

Applause was heard from the engineers in the control room as the every second footage of the target asteroid grew and finally filled the TV screen of NASA’s live webcast just before the spacecraft’s signal was lost, confirming that it had successfully collided into Dimorphs.

None of the objects pose any real threat to Earth, and NASA scientists said the Dart test cannot create a new existential risk by mistake.

Dart is the latest of several NASA missions in recent years to explore and interact with asteroids, rocky remnants of the early formation of the solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

NASA put the total cost of the Dart project at $330 million, well below many of the space agency’s most ambitious science missions.

*Reproduction of this content is prohibited.

Translated to english by RJ983

From Brazil, by EBC News

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