Remember the old arcade game “Asteroids”? So do scientists at NASA and the ESA, who are planning to play it for real, per the Independent:
Scientists are to send two spacecraft to knock an asteroid off course, as part of a practice for what they would do if a rock was threatening the future of humanity.
The joint US-European Aida (Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment) mission will send a small spacecraft to crash into the egg-shaped rock, known as Didymoon. That asteroid doesn’t pose any threat to us — and is far too small to do so — but the mission will be important test for whether our plans would work if we do eventually come at risk of civilisation being wiped out by a space rock.
The missions are set to be launched in October 2020. They are expected to reach Didymoon by May 2022.
Nasa will send one craft in a mission known as Double Asteroid Redirection Test (Dart) mission. It will fire a probe to smack into the rock and see if it can throw it off course.
As well as the nudging probe, scientists will send another spacecraft — the European Space Agency’s Asteroid Impact Mission (Aim). That will fly around Didymoon watching for the effect of the Dart mission, as well as measuring the asteroid’s mass and density and putting a small lander on the asteroid itself to look at its insides.
“To protect Earth from potentially hazardous impacts, we need to understand asteroids much better – what they are made of, their structure, origins and how they respond to collisions,” said Dr Patrick Michel, lead investigator for the European Space Agency half of the mission…
[continues at the Independent]