Could NASA's DART Mission Be Used to Stop Alien Invaders? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Callum Janes WRITTEN BY: Dylan Musselman
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In this video, Unveiled takes another look at the recently launched Double Asteroid Redirection Test... It's a test mission by NASA, designed to help us fight back should an asteroid ever head for Earth. But, could the same technology ALSO be used in the event of an ALIEN INVASION? And is that the plan all along??

Could NASA’s DART Mission Stop Alien Invaders?

Imagine you’re an alien, and you stumbled across Earth. Would you visit this planet in peace, or ruthlessly invade? While the search for extraterrestrial intelligence isn’t always quite so dramatic in its approach, there’s some argument that an alien attack is something we should be seriously preparing for. At the moment, we don’t have much of a “plan” in place, however… unless, that is, another recent mission could double up to save us?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; Could NASA’s DART mission stop alien invaders?

NASA’s ground-breaking DART initiative isn’t intended to be used as a weapon. Nor is it primarily focussed on aliens. But still, there’s good reason why there are already suggestions that the tech within it could one day be used to that end. The DART acronym stands for “Double Asteroid Redirection Test”, and really it’s a leading example of a kinetic impactor - a spacecraft specifically designed to crash into a target (in this case, an asteroid) in order to alter the trajectory of that object. The DART craft is a heavy machine, traveling at high-speed… and, if all goes to plan, it’s destined to smash into its target - the asteroid Dimorphos, which is actually part of a binary asteroid system - in late September, 2022.

DART has no extra weapons or explosives on board to cause any more damage - the plan is simply to affect the asteroid by crashing into it. There’s no overly scientific payload attached to it, either, with only the essential technology included. It has cameras and sensors to navigate outer space, for example, and uses a solar powered ion thruster to accelerate… but otherwise it’s a fairly simple bit of kit, by NASA standards. And finally, as its name suggests, DART is primarily a test vehicle. Chiefly, researchers want to know how the impact will change the asteroid, and how it will alter its course, to better understand what kind of force would be required if we ever did need to divert one in the future.

As such, those behind DART have been keen to stress throughout that this isn’t a response to a genuine asteroid threat. The target, Dimorphos, isn’t a danger to Earth, it’s just well-positioned for a trial run of the technology. Nevertheless, we can imagine how something like DART might work in a real-world, potential-apocalypse scenario. When it was launched in November 2021, interest certainly increased in the looming, extraterrestrial perils that might be out there. Including the potential arrival of an alien force.

Of course, hypothesized alien invaders are a vastly different prospect to asteroids. At their most intelligent, not only would they be actual beings from a different planet or galaxy... but they’d likely be so much more advanced than we are, too. Our standard weapons probably wouldn’t offer much resistance, but if we could meet an alien foe in space then perhaps we’d stand a better chance. And something like DART would at least allow us to do that. A kinetic impactor, in this context, might be thought of as something like a cannonball, only one that’s shot across space. If we were to launch a barrage of them, then it would be as though Earth were a ship trying to defend itself in the ocean. Today’s astronomers would be like lookouts aboard our planet. And those ordering the launch of kinetic impactors would be like the captains of our world, directing Earth through the battle.

Certainly, the impact of DART is nothing to scoff at. The spacecraft weighs more than one thousand pounds, and it will crash into Dimorphos at close to fifteen thousand miles per hour. If you were to travel on Earth at that speed, you’d get from London to America’s East Coast in less than fifteen minutes. Suffice to say, then, it will amount to a tremendous amount of force being generated, and comfortably enough to tear through most objects like a bullet through cheese. Nothing human-made could withstand an impact like that, so it’s a good bet that an alien ship would struggle, too.

However, DART (as it is) has been built for an asteroid impact, specifically. It’s not designed to meet another spaceship, or an alien enemy. If we wanted to launch something like it as a genuine weapon, then, we’d probably upgrade it in variously disturbing ways, to maximize the damage it could cause. Perhaps by strapping nuclear warheads to it, or else lacing it with germs for space-based biological warfare. Of course, a move such as this would go against all guidelines for Planetary Protection. We know that bacteria from our planet could wreak havoc on alien life (as much as alien bacteria could cause major problems for us). But, in the event of alien invasion, a mission like DART could still theoretically form the basis for Earth landing a devastating blow on its enemy from afar.

An alien spacecraft will likely have defenses against something like DART, but how defensive could the technology really get? Force fields only really exist in science fiction, and without the introduction of a fifth fundamental force of nature… it’s thought that they might not be truly possible in real life. Maybe an alien craft would be better served by simply tracking something like DART, then, as though it were a missile. Which, effectively, it would be… only so much more advanced!

Traditional missiles simply can’t match up to what DART amounts to. None could make a long-distance flight into space like DART can. The longest-range missiles invented, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (or ICBMs), can travel more than 3,400 miles, with the longest of all traveling more than 5,000 miles. Which on Earth is a massive distance… but off-Earth, not so much. The moon, the closest major celestial object to us, is about 239,000 miles away on average. Meaning an ICBM wouldn’t stand a chance of reaching even it… and an alien force that’s done even a little bit of research should easily be able to stay out of missile range from us. We’d need something capable of hitting targets much further away, then, like DART.

But still, even then, a long-distance projectile could be monitored by the target its aiming for. There’d be time enough to catch it and destroy it before it destroyed you. Again, it would depend on the probably far superior tech that an invading alien group would have. They’d need technology similar to (but even better than) something like the Lockheed Martin ABC (or Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control Turret). It gives a 360-degree-capable view from an aircraft, enabling pilots to shoot down enemy missiles with lasers. Tech such as this is a trump card against missiles as we currently know them. And so, if there were a machine capable of performing a similar role against fast-moving, outer space kinetic impactors… then even something like DART might fall short as an effective weapon.

So, at present, are there any other options that we could consider? Ultimately, we humans on Earth are still in our infancy when it comes to space warfare… although there are some development projects underway. Laser-powered weapons could well prove to be the path we take. Lasers are both fast (traveling at the speed of light) and potentially invisible to watching alien eyes. More powerful yet is the particle beam, though, a targeted stream of particles that carries an intense amount of energy… and is theoretically capable of ripping apart (or even wholly disintegrating) any target it hits. As far as we know, however, while there are some examples in some militaries, weapons like these haven’t yet been perfected.

For now, then, while DART isn’t a weapon, it might be argued that the technology within it could one-day be reused for a weapon. In some ways, all it would really need is an effective cloaking mechanism to hide it from anybody else, and a kinetic impactor really could save the world. But, of course, we still haven’t witnessed the results of the real-life DART mission yet. Again, the spacecraft is scheduled to crash into its actual target, the asteroid Dimorphos, in September 2022. So keep your eyes peeled for the headlines that it will bring.

As of this moment, this mission isn’t about to stop an alien invasion. It’s simply trying to take out an isolated asteroid, to see what will happen. But perhaps one day the technology could evolve to form a foundation for planetary defense of all kinds. And that’s how NASA’s DART mission could stop alien invaders.