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NASA spacecraft crashes into asteroid in defense test

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NASA spacecraftcrashes into asteroid in defense test

A NASAspacecraft rammed an asteroid at blistering speed Monday in an unprecedenteddress rehearsal for the day a killer rock menaces Earth.

The galacticslam occurred at a harmless asteroid 7 million miles (11.3 million kilometers)away, with the spacecraft named Dart plowing into the space rock at 14,000 mph(22,500 kph). Scientists expected the impact to carve out a crater, hurlstreams of rocks and dirt into space and, most importantly, alter theasteroid’s orbit.

“We haveimpact!” MissionControl’s Elena Adams announced, jumping up and down and thrusting her armsskyward.

Telescopesaround the world and in space aimed at the same point in the sky to capture thespectacle. Though the impact was immediately obvious — Dart’s radio signalabruptly ceased — it will take as long as a couple of months to determine howmuch the asteroid’s path was changed.

The $325million mission was the first attempt to shift the position of an asteroid orany other natural object in space.

“As faras we can tell, our first planetary defense test was a success,” Adams later told a news conference,the room filling with applause. “I think Earthlings should sleep better.Definitely, I will.”

NASAAdministrator Bill Nelson reminded people earlier in the day via Twitter that, “No,this is not a movie plot.” He added in a prerecorded video: ”We’ve allseen it on movies like “Armageddon,” but the real-life stakes are high.”

Launchedlast November, the vending machine-size Dart — short for Double AsteroidRedirection Test — navigated to its target using new technology developed byJohns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, the spacecraft builderand mission manager.

Flightcontrollers cheered, hugged one another and exchanged high fives. Their missioncomplete, the Dart team went straight into celebration mode. There was littlesorrow over the spacecraft’s demise.

“Thedinosaurs didn’t have a space program to help them know what was coming, but wedo,” NASA’s seniorclimate adviser Katherine Calvin said, referring to the mass extinction 66million years ago believed to have been caused by a major asteroid impact,volcanic eruptions or both.

The VeraRubin Observatory, nearing completion in Chile by the National ScienceFoundation and U.S. Energy Department, promises to revolutionize the field ofasteroid discovery, Lu noted.

Finding andtracking asteroids, “That’s still the name of the game here. That’s thething that has to happen in order to protect the Earth,” he said.

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