NASA launches asteroid defense test with help of 19-year-old scientist

California

(KTXL) — Hollywood likes to take on the concept of defending Earth from an asteroid hit, like in the movie “Armageddon” in 1998.

But one Sacramento State grad and NASA contest winner is doing planetary defense in real life.

At this stage for Elizabeth Gabler, it won’t get any more real than at 10:21 p.m. Tuesday.

That’s when a planetary defense aircraft she’s helped design will make a first-of-its-kind launch for NASA.

Gabler was named one of the Mars Generation 24 under 24 STEM innovators in the world last year.

At just 19, she’d been hired to work for a NASA contractor developing something called DART, which stands for double asteroid re-direction test.

The goal of the planned launch is to try and hit the small moon of the asteroid Didymos, the moonlet Dimorphos and alter its path around the bigger body.

Success in moving Dimorphos would be in preparation for when there’s a really big asteroid potentially on track to hit earth.

So why target the smaller moon in this test and not the asteroid itself?

“The point is that Dimorphos is a lot smaller, so an impact will have a bigger force on it, so we want to see if we can move a little one and see if a change in its orbit impacts the orbit of the bigger asteroid,” Gabler explained. “I helped design both of the propulsion system and the electric propulsion and the liquid, so the little brackets that hold on to the hydrogen thrusters were my design. It launches tonight but the impact on the asteroid is not until the end of next September, so September 2022.”

Didymos is about the height of the Washington Monument but much bulkier.

Pieces of asteroids actually fall to earth every day, ones from pebble to person-size.

Currently, no known asteroid poses a threat to Earth for the next 100 years but there is always the unknown.

Gabler is at Vandenburg Space Force Base northwest of Lompoc, California eagerly awaiting Tuesday night’s launch.

Her next goal is to help humans set foot on Mars, all part of a love affair with space that began with her first look through a telescope at age four.

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