BOULDER, Colo. (KDVR) — For the first time, humanity has successfully changed the orbit of a celestial body after intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid last month.
NASA is now calling the mission a huge success, and a University of Colorado Boulder professor played a role in making it happen. Aerospace engineering professor Jay McMahon said it’s the first time he’s ever been excited to see expensive equipment explode.
“This was the first time we cheered when we saw evidence that a spacecraft was destroyed,” he said with a laugh. “So normally, you don’t want to see anything like that.”
DART proved future defense possibility
NASA launched the DART spacecraft late last year, targeting a small asteroid millions of miles away. They successfully made contact late last month, and data is showing they moved the asteroid out of its original orbit.
McMahon said it’s a large enough shift that they could theoretically stop an asteroid from hitting Earth if it was ever in danger.
“If an asteroid were really coming towards Earth, it would be on an orbit around the sun, and it would be crossing the Earth’s orbit around the sun,” he said. “And so we don’t need to blow up the asteroid, we just need to shift it onto a different path. So when they cross, they’re not at the same place at the same time.”
At the moment, he said there aren’t any known asteroids posing a threat to Earth, but that could change over the course of time.
“Now we know that we do have the technology to carry out such a mission if we needed to in the future,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll never need it, but if we do, we could do it.”
McMahon is specifically studying the track of the asteroid and plans on monitoring it for at least the next year.