Riding on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, NASA launched its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission early Wednesday morning from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
The goal? Colliding with an asteroid to test whether humans can successfully knock a potential threat to Earth off-course.
The space agency emphasizes that there is currently no asteroid threat to Earth. This is simply to test if humans can alter any future threat's path.
The target? Near-Earth asteroid Dimorphos, a small satellite orbiting a larger asteroid named Didymos. Dimorphos, discovered in 1996, and Didymos, discovered in 2003, make up a binary asteroid system which orbits Earth's sun.
It is going to take 10 months for DART to reach Dimorphos, with a collision expected in September 2022. The crash will happen approximately 6.8 million miles from Earth.
“This is really, really important that we do this now, where we are in a point where we don’t know if any asteroids are potentially dangerous right now, or are significant threat, I should say, those that are a significant threat over the next 100 years,” said NASA Planetary Science Division Director Dr. Lori Glaze.
The European Space Agency says a successful mission would mark the first time humans impacted the orbit of a body in a measurable way.