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Oct 11, 2022

My pulse quickens whenever we leap into the unknown of space, be it with the 2015 New Horizons flyby of Pluto, or the launch of the new James Webb telescope on December 25, 2021.
And so, I experienced that rush on September 26 when the D.A.R.T. spacecraft designed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for NASA was intentionally slammed into a tiny asteroid at some 14,000 miles per hour after traveling for more than 10 months and 7 million miles.

"Intentionally slammed into a tiny asteroid” is the operative phrase here. Let’s find out why that was done from one of the critical minds on the project, Michelle Chen, an engineer with the Johns Hopkins APL who led the team that developed the spacecraft’s SMART navigation system.


√ The D.A.R.T. mission — D.A.R.T. stands for Double Asteroid Redirection Test — was undertaken to see if we could nudge an asteroid out of an orbit that could potentially be on a path of hitting Earth.

√ The D.A.R.T. spacecraft flew on its own for the last 40 minutes or so of the mission, courtesy of the navigation system that Michelle and her team built. It had to be capable of maneuvering independently, given the speed at which it was flying and the distance between the craft and the JPL team.

√ Michelle judged the quality of her team, in part, by the quality of the questions they asked.

√ As a leader, Michelle believes in giving her team members room to explore and make mistakes.

√ Curiosity will help to define our future innovations.

√ What would you tell your younger self? Stay true to who you are, and ask questions.

New York Times: NASA Smashes Into an Asteroid, Completing a Mission to Save a Future Day