NASA spacecraft ‘Columbia’ blasts off to crash into asteroid

( Fox News ) NASA launched its spacecraft to crash into an asteroid as a part of its mission to investigate the rocks and minerals they contain and learn what it would take to send human beings to a lunar or Mars orbit, EHI reported.

The craft will collide with the 50-foot-wide asteroid 1999 RQ36 as it passes about 1.3 million miles from Earth. A radio telescope at Hawaii’s Mauna Kea will eventually be able to pick up the collision in real time.

Astronomers using telescopes to look at 2001 RQ36 about 25 million miles from Earth discovered last September that its orbit takes it almost within 3.1 million miles of Earth in 2029.

NASA’s Deep Space Network relay satellites, which relay information from one location to another, will then be used to communicate with the spacecraft, AFP reported.

“RQ36 has a path where it is going to be in the path of Earth and could possibly hit us as a meteor. So there is that, but the probability of that happening has dropped dramatically over the years, I believe,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office.

NASA scientists used what they learned about 1999 RQ36 to determine a number of other asteroids which pose less of a threat.

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