The threat of an asteroid striking Earth is pretty scary — and not just in all the ways Hollywood movies have depicted — but human technology has reached a point where it might actually be possible for us to prevent an asteroid impact if we see one headed our way. NASA has a concept for a tool that could do the trick. It’s called the DART (short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test), and the agency is finally moving forward with its plan to design and hopefully build the hardware that it needs to save humanity’s bacon.
The idea behind DART is that by spotting a troublesome asteroid well in advance, a “kinetic impactor” could nudge the space rock off of its collision course with Earth. The plan includes sending a spacecraft to the asteroid and impacting it in such a way as to alter its orbit. The spacecraft wouldn’t have to be particularly large — only about the size of a refrigerator — because even a small change in the asteroid’s trajectory would be amplified over time and cause it to miss our planet.
The DART plan is currently moving from the concept to design phase, and the actual testing of the hardware is expected to take place in 2024. At that point, a DART spacecraft will be sent to an asteroid that does not pose a threat to Earth, but will perform the same task as it would on a potentially cataclysmic space rock in order to gauge how well it actually works. Eventually, the fear of an asteroid collision could become a thing of the past.