It's rare for mission personnel to cheer at a loss of signal, but that's what happened tonight.
Team members are celebrating the success of NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test, which slammed into an asteroid called Dimorphos tonight. The scheduled time was as planned. The purpose of the mission was to evaluate a method of planetary defense so that if an asteroid hits Earth, humans will be able to avoid it. The team will need days or weeks to evaluate the test, but hitting Dimorphos was a huge achievement.
Elena Adams, DART's mission systems engineer, said that Ed Reynolds, DART program manager, said joy and terror at the same time.
The last thing DART saw before it crashed was an asteroid.
The asteroid was in the field of view for the first time. We didn't know what to expect. We knew we were going to hit the asteroid even though we didn't know its shape. All of us were holding our breaths. I was surprised that we didn't pass out.
DART operators didn't have to intervene during the final four hours of the approach, according to the team members. "This mission was straight down the middle of what we were expecting, and there were no adjustments needed," said Mark Jensenius, DART Smart Nav guidance engineer at theJHUAPL.
Adams thought it was disappointing. We did nothing of the 21 contingencies we prepared.
The impact on Didymos will be the final measure of success for DART. The team is not worried.
Adams said the test was a success. Earthlings should be sleeping better. Absolutely, I will. If necessary, planetary defense tries to adjust the space rock's path to avoid hitting Earth.
NASA doesn't know of any large asteroids that will hit Earth within the coming decades, but scientists are constantly scanning the skies to find space rocks. DART is the first step in moving past simply watching asteroids.
Adams said that they are excited to be done with the project. It was an incredible feeling to see it conclude so nicely.
Today marks the beginning of the end, but for scientists involved in the mission there is a lot more to do.
"These guys, their job is done, but ours is just beginning," Carolyn Ernst, instrument scientist for DART's DRACO camera, said during the news conference. We will spend the next months and years analyzing. The job has just begun, but it looks amazing.
Scientists have some more data to look forward to, even though the DART spacecraft is not in good shape. Three minutes after the impact, a small satellite called LICIACube will send a host of images to Earth.
Ground-based observatories will be used to clock the Dimorphos around Didymos. It used to take 11 hours and 55 minutes, but scientists think tonight's impact will cut that time in half. The process will take two months.
There is still interest in Dimorphos. The Hera mission will be launched by the European Space Agency in December of 2020. Hera doesn't dare to approach the asteroids as close as two additional cubesats will allow.
The team shows human efforts to avoid going the way of the dinosaurs.
The leader of NASA's planetary science division said during the live broadcast that they were embarking on a new era. An era in which we have the ability to protect ourselves from dangerous asteroid impacts. It's amazing. We have never had that ability before.
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