On Monday evening, a spacecraft headed straight into an asteroid, obliterating itself. In images streamed as the impact neared, the egg-shaped asteroid, called Dimorphos, grew in size from a blip on screen to have its full rocky surface come quickly into focus before the signal went dead as the craft hit, right on target.
Events transpired exactly as engineers had planned, they said, with nothing going wrong. “As far as we can tell our first planetary defense test was a success,” said Elena Adams, the mission systems engineer, who added that scientists looked on with “both terror and joy” as the spacecraft neared its final destination.
The impact was the culmination of NASA’s (DART) a 7-year and more than $300 million effort which launched a space vehicle in November of 2021 to perform humanity’s first ever test of planetary defense technology.
It will be about two months, scientists said, before they will be able to determine if the impact was enough to drive the asteroid slightly off course.