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NASA's DART Mission To Make First-Ever Attempt To Defend Earth From Asteroids

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Tuesday night, humanity will make its first attempt ever to defend itself against threats that are out of this world – asteroids.

As CBS's Vanessa Murdock reports, the sky seemed to ignite in February of 2013 as the Chelyabinsk meteor careened toward Earth.

A shockwave shattered windows, injuring more than 1,000 people. The Eother rock of this meteor – a near-earth asteroid about 20 meters wide.

"We're constantly getting hit by little meteorites, but we know that there are bigger ones out there," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division.

Glaze says that's why NASA is preparing now for the future, when an asteroid does threaten life on Earth and we need to defend our planet.

"We want to live, no? We don't want to die," said Aviram Cohean.

Tuesday night, the DART mission rockets into outer space. DART stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Test. Using solar power for propulsion, 10 months from now, NASA's DART will be 6.5 million miles away and within striking distance of a near-Earth double asteroid – Didymos – the larger of the two, and Dimorphos, the smaller, or "moonlet."

DART will be ramming into Dimorphos in hopes of redirecting it.

"The asteroid we're trying to hit is about the size of a football stadium," Glaze said. "And we're going to try and hit it with something the size of a refrigerator."

DART won't have eyes on Dimorphos until it's about an hour away from impact.

"It will show up as one pixel in the camera," Glaze said.

The spacecraft will start snapping pics of its target and navigate without human intervention.

"Figure out what's the best angle to hit that asteroid and get our best momentum transfer," Glaze said.

"That's crazy," one person said. "That's amazing that we have that much advancement in science. We've really come a long way."

"I wonder, could the chunks of it after hitting it hit the Earth though?" said Jaden Rodriguez of Yonkers.

Could redirecting send the asteroid in the wrong direction? Murdock asked American Museum of Natural History's curator of meteorites, Denton Ebel.

"Zero point zero zero zero ... This is rocket science," Ebel said. "We know these things hit the earth, and we need to learn how to deflect them – especially big ones."

Thankfully, scientists know of no big ones heading our way.

"So everyone be calm," Ebel said.

Rest easy knowing NASA is ready to launch the future of our planetary defense.

You might be wondering why doesn't NASA just blow up the asteroid? Glaze says it's the one thing you don't want to do. Instead of one big asteroid hurtling toward Earth, you'll end up with thousands: Blowing it up doesn't change its orbit.

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