NASA Will Mimic "Don't Look Up" Instead of "Armageddon" to Respond to a Passing Asteroid

Eric Sentell

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Picture of shooting starChris Henry, Unsplash

Most people remember the film Armageddon featuring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. Willis and Affleck play a pair of grizzled, expert oil drillers.

Naturally, they're NASA's first choice to lead a crack crew of oil drillers in a space mission to land on a "planet-killer" asteroid headed for earth, drill into its center, and detonate an atomic bomb, splitting the asteroid in two halves that harmlessly pass by our pale blue dot while humanity celebrates.

It makes sense, doesn't it? When you face a physical threat, including a planet-killing asteroid tumbling directly at earth, then you defend yourself with violence, including an atomic weapon.

Yet NASA will take the Don't Look Up approach with an asteroid that will soon pass close by earth. It's the "Double Asteroid Redirection Test" mission or DART.

In the recent Netflix film, Don't Look Up, a pair of scientists played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence identify a planet-killing asteroid headed straight for earth.

NASA then plans a mission to redirect, not blow up, the asteroid. The response is more Judo than heavyweight boxing.

SpaceX has already launched the spacecraft that NASA intends to land on Dimorphus, a moon about 500 feet across that orbits the half-mile wide asteroid Didymous.

These "near-earth objects" will not impact earth, but they will pass closest to earth in September 2022. NASA's "Double Asteroid Redirection Test" mission (DART) is a test-run for defending the planet against an asteroid that could potentially strike earth.

The DART mission was developed for NASA's office of planetary defense. The vessel that will hit Dimporphus will barely change its orbit around Didymous, but the change will be observable from earth and by a second space vessel launched to pass by and observe the impact.

Basically, NASA's shooting a pool ball to "kiss" against another pool ball.

If a "near-earth object" ever becomes a "going-to-destroy-earth object," then NASA will have valuable data from DART about how to influence the trajectory of that asteroid.

Then NASA will shoot a pool ball (spaceship) that sends another pool ball (asteroid) spiraling away.

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