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NASA Demos Planetary Defense Tech With DART Mission; Thomas Zurbuchen Quoted

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NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test spacecraft hit its target asteroid moonlet Dimorphos on Monday as part of the world’s first test of a planetary defense technology.

NASA said Tuesday the test sought to demonstrate its capability to maneuver a spacecraft to intentionally crash into an asteroid and deflect it through kinetic impact as part of an effort to protect Earth should a planet-bound comet or asteroid be discovered.

Now we know we can aim a spacecraft with the precision needed to impact even a small body in space. Just a small change in its speed is all we need to make a significant difference in the path an asteroid travels,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA.

Dimorphos, which does not pose a threat to Earth, is orbiting a larger asteroid dubbed Didymos. The investigation team will use ground-based telescopes to determine whether DART’s collision with the asteroid changed its orbit around Didymos.

The spacecraft was able to target the smaller asteroid 10 months after launch using its Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation system or DRACO, which captured the surface of Dimorphos seconds before impact.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory oversees the DART mission for the space agency’s planetary defense coordination office.