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NASA's first-ever planetary defense mission is preparing to launch in June 2021, making sure all the pieces are in place for the spacecraft to successfully slam into the small "moon" of a binary asteroid.
That mission, called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), will culminate in October 2022 with the much-anticipated impact with the binary asteroid Didymos. But mission staff have plenty to keep them busy between now and then, and they know they will be in the spotlight as the mission continues. That's in part because DART represents NASA's first foray beyond scientific and human spaceflight missions; instead, this mission will test a technology that could theoretically save Earth from a dangerous collision with a threatening asteroid.
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"People can really get into the whole, 'Oh my god, you're trying to move the what?'" Elena Adams, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, told Space.com during the International Academy of Astronautics' Planetary Defense Conference, held earlier this month in College Park, Maryland. Adams is the mission systems engineer for DART. "I think people are very excited, too, because they wouldn't want to be dinosaurs."
As mission systems engineer, Adams' job is to communicate and coordinate between all the different pieces of the DART mission — from the spacecraft itself to the launch vehicle to how the team members will work together over the course of the mission.
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A key recent development in that equation is the rocket. The DART team had been assuming the craft would be piggybacking on a launch, which would have lengthened the journey from Earth to Didymos, but NASA decided to buy a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch dedicated to the mission.
"Before, we had to spend a lot of time spiralling around Earth; we didn't know where we were going to get dropped off,"...
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