In 1998, Hollywood’s Michael Bay created a film that had Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and a team of oil drillers fly to a huge asteroid the size of Texas that was headed for Earth on a collision course that would wipe out life on our planet as we know it. The crew was able to land on the asteroid, drill down a significant distance, and plant a nuclear device that destroyed the asteroid and saved the world. 

On early Wednesday, NASA (in true life-imitating-art fashion) launched the DART spacecraft. DART will fly to Dimorphos, an asteroid far from Earth, and smash into it. It will not destroy it but nudge it off its course. Currently, Dimorphos is circling Didymos, a much larger asteroid. Neither is on a collision course with us. 

DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) took off from Vandenberg Space Force Base atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The mission cost $330 million.

The mission will test whether the trajectory of an asteroid headed for Earth can be altered. 

Dimorphos is approximately 170 meters across, or about the size of a football stadium. Didymos is much larger, at about 780 meters across. According to NASA, the size of these asteroids poses the greatest threat to Earth.

Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer for NASA, during a news conference before the launch said, “The right time to deflect an asteroid is as far away from the Earth as we can.”

 “The farther away in space it is… the less force it takes to change the orbit enough that it will be a miss instead of a hit.”