NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test Spacecraft Is Set To Slam Into An Asteroid For Future Planetary Defence Systems
Launching later this month, the DART mission will help understand how to redirect future Earth-threatening asteroids — it will also fundamentally change humans’ relationship with our solar system As if streaming audio directly into our brains and populating the world with humanoid Tesla bots wasn’t enough, SpaceX founder Elon Musk is leaning even further into his evil tech overlord vibes with plans to rearrange the layout of our solar system. Ok, so that’s not completely accurate: the joint project between SpaceX and NASA is actually aimed at defending Earth (but that is how all good supervillain stories start out).
Scheduled to launch with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket later this month, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (or DART) spacecraft is set to slam into an asteroid as part of a vital experiment for future planetary defence systems. As explained by SpaceX: “NASA will intentionally crash the DART spacecraft into an asteroid to see if that is an effective way to change its course, should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future.”
The 550 kilogram DART spacecraft won’t actually make contact with the asteroid in question — a space rock with a 160 metre diameter, named Dimorphos — until late September or early October of 2022. When it does, however, scientists will measure how much the impact speeds up Dimorphos’ orbit around its larger twin, Didymos (780 metres in diameter), and should receive important data to help divert future asteroids that may be headed for Earth.
Neither Dimorphos or Didymos are currently at risk of colliding with our planet, though they will pass by in 2022 and 2024. According to NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, “no known asteroid larger than 140 meters in size has a significant chance to hit Earth for the next 100 years”. However, the PDCO also notes: “Only about 40 percent of those asteroids have been found to date.” Beyond jokes about Elon Musk’s villainy, space experts have genuine ethical concerns about smashing a spacecraft into an asteroid, which marks a whole new relationship between humans and the solar system we inhabit — one in which we don’t just float through it, but exert influence on its orbital systems.
“Humans are like — we can do anything in the solar system, we can even move things out of the way,” says Ellie Armstrong, a outer space geographer at the University of Delaware (via Space.com). “The idea of being able to move, and exploit, and destroy or change natural capital like rocks and asteroids is very fundamentally pinned to an imperial worldview that sees humans as being allowed to do whatever they want.”
Critics also note the lack of input that the public has had on the space mission, and the (albeit slim) potential for the technology to be abused. Valerie Olson, an anthropologist at the University of California Irvine, who has researched the planetary defence community, notes: “The very same technologies that can be used to move something can be used to weaponize something.” Another contentious issue is the space agency’s allocation of resources, with some suggesting that the $330 million fund for the mission would be better spent counteracting very real — and extinction-level — issues, such as the climate crisis.
“I’m interested in what this says about what kind of problems America wants to be seen to be solving or NASA wants to be seen to be solving,” Armstrong continues. “You are literally moving a whole asteroid, and you are not making similar innovations in technology for very real problems.” NASA will intentionally crash the DART spacecraft into an asteroid to see if that is an effective way to change its course, should an Earth-threatening asteroid be discovered in the future
This News Was Originally Published At Dazed Digital