NASA is about to embark on a real-life mission to stop an asteroid crashing into Earth.

What may initially sound like a fictional sci-fi film has been described as “one of the most consequential missions ever undertaken by NASA.”

The space agency will launch an empty spacecraft towards an asteroid moonlet called Dimorphos, which orbits a larger asteroid named Didymos. NASA’s spacecraft, which is of similar size to a golf buggy, will hit Dimorphos at around 15,000mph in a bid to impact the moon’s speed and orbit.

Andy Cheng, lead investigator for the mission at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, told Bloomberg: “It’s all about measuring the momentum transfer: How much momentum do we put into the asteroid by hitting it with the spacecraft?”

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The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is set to launch on Wednesday (November 23) – no later than 1:21 am EST.

This will be NASA’s “first planetary defence test mission” that combines laser targeting and high-resolution technologies to see whether it can change an asteroid’s trajectory.

“This test is to demonstrate that this technology is mature enough so that it would be ready if an actual asteroid impact threat were detected,” Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defence officer, said.

While it may sound alarming, there’s nothing to worry about just yet. The space agency monitor potentially dangerous asteroids and have been doing so for the past 15 years.

“While no known asteroid larger than 140 metres in size has a significant chance to hit Earth for the next 100 years, less than half of the estimated 25,000 [near-Earth objects] that are 140 metres and larger in size have been found to date,” NASA said.

To find out more about NASA’s DART mission, click here.

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