LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — On Tuesday night, NASA and SpaceX tested their new spacecraft meant to protect the world from asteroids set to collide with Earth.
"Planetary defense is very much a global problem," Cristina Thomas, the leader of the mission."
The mission, dubbed Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, is the space agency's new initiative to create a planetary defense system protecting the globe from a potentially devastating asteroid strike.
According to NASA, Earth is hit by asteroids regularly, some the size of a table. However, the asteroid DART is traveling to is "about the size of the Washington Monument." Objects of that size can cause severe damage to the region it crashes into.
The SpaceX rocket launched from Vandenberg and it released a satellite into space. If all goes well, in September, it will fly into an asteroid circling the Earth. The asteroid, Dimorphos, is roughly the size of a kitchen table, is in a fixed orbit around a much larger asteroid called Didymos.
The goal would be to change the speed of the incoming object. According to experts, a change in speeds — even mere seconds in advance — could shift the asteroid off course enough to miss earth entirely.
When the satellite makes an impact on both Dimorphos and Didymos will be 6.8 million miles away. Officials at NASA can observe the mission from the ground using telescopes and the camera onboard the spacecraft. The video would be streamed back to the station and will help guide the spacecraft into the asteroid.
While there are no asteroids known to be on a collision course for Earth for at least another hundred years, experts believe now is the time to ramp up discovery to be prepared for any threat.
"We are not talking about things like the ones that killed the dinosaurs that gets rid of the entire population on earth," said Thomas. "There are lots of things that are smaller than that that are large enough to impact day-to-day life ."
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