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'I just could not believe it'; Livermore team celebrates NASA's historic strike on distant asteroid

NASA celebrates asteroid strike that one day could save Earth from destruction
NASA celebrates asteroid strike that one day could save Earth from destruction 02:36

LIVERMORE -- This time is wasn't a movie. NASA has made history as it deliberately flew a spacecraft straight into an asteroid - all in an effort to save the planet from future destruction. 

The first-of-its-kind mission to knock a celestial object off-course started 10 months ago when NASA launched a spacecraft the size of a refrigerator from Vandenberg in California. 

On Monday night, the space agency deliberately crashed a spacecraft  into an asteroid the size of the Statue of Liberty - about 7 million miles from earth. 

"I just could not believe it. The energy in the room was just incredible because we had all been anticipating this moment for many years. And the perseverance of the DART engineering team through the pandemic to get this spacecraft built and launched," said Megan Bruck Syal, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). 

Syal, who leads the planetary defense team at LLNL, was part of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART. 

"All of us that have contributed to the mission over the last 8, myself and my team have contributed over the last 8 years, so it was really emotional moment. A lot of people were crying. It was just really special," she said.  

LLNL provided impact simulations and analysis for the mission. 

"It's not a disruption mission, so in media we often think of blowing up an asteroid in lots of pieces," Syal said.  "This is not that, this is a gentle nudge so that most of it stays together. There's just a really big impact plume, and telescopes from ground-based observatories, telescopes from all over the world and telescopes in space are imaging that ejecta right now and seeing how it evolves." 

Syal said her team will now start running 3D simulations of the event. 

This test will help scientists prepare for future threats that could be much closer to earth.

"We are showing that planetary defense is a global endeavor and it is very possible to save our planet," said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. 

It could be months, before we know if Monday's test actually redirected the asteroid. NASA says earth is not in danger of an asteroid strike in the next 100 years.

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