A spacecraft that collided with a small, harmless asteroid millions of miles from Earth has successfully diverted the space rock’s orbit, announcing the results of its first test, NASA said on Tuesday.

The US space agency strategically launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (Dart) spacecraft into the asteroid’s path, thereby driving it off course.

NASA hopes to be able to banish any asteroid or comet that poses a real threat to Earth.

“We’ve shown the world that NASA is serious as an advocate for this planet,” said NASA Administrator, former astronaut and Democratic Senator from Florida Bill Nelson.

“Let’s all take a moment to drink this. We’re all here this afternoon because for the first time ever, humanity has changed the orbit of a planetary body,” said Laurie Glaese, director of NASA’s Planetary Division.

“I am very happy to announce today that the orbital period has changed due to the Dart effect,” said Christina Thomas, principal investigator for Dart.

“I am constantly impressed by this team and the tremendous observations they were able to gather in the two weeks following the impact. Our team has been preparing for these observations for years as we have worked to understand the orbital period before impact and this result is a testament to how well prepared we are for this moment.”

Famous NASA telescopes, Webb and Hubble, captured the moment the spacecraft hit the lunar asteroid on September 26. It took days of observation to determine how the impact of the collision altered the 525-foot asteroid’s path around its companion, a much larger rock.

Observations revealed that the DART effect changed Demorphos’ orbit around the larger asteroid Didymos by about 32 minutes, shortening the orbit of 11 hours and 55 minutes to 11 hours and 23 minutes. Prior to the collision, NASA officials said a change of orbit of 73 seconds or more would be considered a success.

Professor Colin Snodgrass, an astronomer and member of the science team for the Dart mission at the University of Edinburgh, said the next step is to find out what the change in orbit says about the internal structure of Demorphos. “There has been a lot of scope in predictions about what might happen precisely because we don’t know much about the internal structure of asteroids,” he said.

“Now that we have the outcome of the experiment, we can work backwards to see the range of potential starting points that give us the kind of change we saw,” he added. “As the full range of pre-impact predictions went, in extreme cases, from ‘nothing happens’ to ‘totally destroy Dimorphos,’ the half-hour change is not outside the range of expectations.”

In a statement following the test, NASA said Dart “deliberately crashed into Demorphos, the small moon in the double asteroid system at Didymos. It was the world’s first test of kinetic impact mitigation technology, using a spacecraft to deflect an asteroid that poses no threat to Earth, and to modify the object’s orbit.”

“DART is a test of Earth’s defense against potential asteroid or comet threats,” the space agency said.

It changed the orbit of the asteroid Demorphos by 32 minutes. The minimum required to change the orbital period, Glaese said, was “actually only 73 seconds.”

However, Gleese noted that if a future asteroid threatens Earth, work on the deflection should begin well in advance: With the Dart mission causing only a 4.5% change in orbit time, “the more time we have for this small thrust… We are better off.”

NASA said the Dart spacecraft, which was launched last year and was roughly the size of a vending machine, was destroyed when it hit the asteroid seven meters away at a speed of 14,000 miles per hour.

On Tuesday, public figures rushed to congratulate NASA on the success of the $325 million test.

In a tweet, Vice President Kamala Harris said, He said: “Congratulations to the NASA team for successfully altering the orbit of an asteroid. The Dart mission marks the first time humans have altered the motion of a celestial body in space, demonstrating technology that could one day be used to protect Earth.”

Scientist and educator Bill Nye He said: “We celebrate…because a mission like this can save the world.”

This article was modified on October 12, 2022 to remove the false indication of the DART spacecraft that collided with an asteroid in 2021.

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