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Nasa to crash spacecraft into asteroid in planetary defense test | Nasa

A multimillion-dollar spacecraft will collide head-on with an asteroid the size of a football stadium in an unprecedented full-scale planetary defense test by the US space agency Nasa on Monday evening.

The 570kg (1257lb) spacecraft named Dart – short for Double Asteroid Redirection Test – was set to crash at high speed into the asteroid Dimorphos and self-destruct about 7pm ET.

The collision between the asteroid and the spaceship – which is roughly the size of a vending machine with two rectangular solar arrays – is supposed to unfold about 6.8m miles (11m km) from Earth.

The test aims to determine if intentionally crashing a spacecraft into an asteroid is an effective way to change its course and avert a doomsday scenario for Earth. A relatively similar strategy involving a nuclear missile rather than an unmanned spacecraft failed during a key point in the plot of Morgan Freeman’s fictional 1998 planetary disaster film Deep Impact.

Dart’s planned self-destruction poses no threats to humanity, Nasa spokesperson Glen Nagle said.

Nagle said Monday’s test was the first of a series of “planetary protection missions”.

“We want to have a better chance than the dinosaurs had 65m years ago,” Nagle said, referring to the theory that the prehistoric reptiles which once ruled Earth went extinct when an asteroid struck the planet.

Nagle added: “All they could do is look up and go, ‘Oh asteroid.’”

While no known asteroid larger than 459ft (140 meters) in size has a significant chance of hitting Earth for the next century, it’s estimated that only 40% of those asteroids have been identified so far.

Cameras and telescopes will watch the crash, but it will take days or even weeks to find out if it actually altered the asteroid’s orbit.

The $325m planetary defense test culminating Monday began with Dart’s launch last fall.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed reporting.

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