NASA is moments away from launching its first-ever planetary defense test mission. Officials hope the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will help determine whether or not intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid could change its trajectory in space, potentially redirecting them away from the planet should the issue arise.
DART is currently scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the twilight hours of Wednesday morning, no earlier than 1:20 am Eastern time. NASA is beginning coverage of the launch at 12:30 a.m. Eastern on NASA TV, the NASA app, and the agency's website. You can see a livestream of the launch below.
DART is designed to launch itself into an asteroid while traveling around 15,000 miles per hour. Currently, the target asteroid is Dimorphos, an asteroid currently orbiting a larger asteroid named Didymos. It's expected the craft will reach the binary asteroid system sometime late next year.
As NASA is clear to say, the asteroid that's currently being targeted poses no substantial risk to Earth whatsoever, it was chosen simply because scientists can measure any potential change in orbit or trajectories with Earth-bound telescopes.
"The DART Investigation Team will compare the results of DART's kinetic impact with Dimorphos to highly detailed computer simulations of kinetic impacts on asteroids," NASA's website explains. "Doing so will evaluate the effectiveness of this mitigation approach and assess how best to apply it to future planetary defense scenarios, as well as how accurate the computer simulations are and how well they reflect the behavior of a real asteroid."
Alongside NASA's ever-growing planetary defense missions, the agency launched a public-facing site where members of the public can take quizzes in an attempt to become a "Planetary Defender." You can see more about that program here.