Kansas NASA scientist plays major role in DART mission

A Kansas man is one of the key players that made NASA's Dart Mission a success.
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 10:00 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - NASA successfully crashed their dart rocket into an asteroid Monday to further research redirecting outer space threats. One of the key players in helping make NASA’s DART mission successful is Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer from Kansas.

Lead planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson says his childhood in Wilsey, Kansas is what started his fascination with space.

“Growing up in rural Kansas, under those clear skies looking at all the stars started me on my course in astronomy,” said Johnson.

Before NASA, he was in the ROTC program at KU where he studied astronomy. Then he went on to join the United States Air Force and served for 23 years. Shortly after, he joined NASA in 2003 where he has led the DART mission for the last 10 years.

He says the early test results were something he’ll never forget.

It’s one of the better Mondays I’ve had in my lifetime,” said Johnson.

Images from telescopes around the world show the dart rocket’s initial impact on the asteroid. Johnson says they are still searching for unknown asteroids that could pose as potential threats to earth. Even before the final results from the dart have been released, the planetary defense team is already working on their next project.

“We only know of 41% of the asteroid population near us. We found about 30,000 asteroids of all sizes,” said Johnson. “We’re working on building a space-based telescope specifically designed to find the rest of this population so that we know where they all are.”

The Kansas scientist hopes this research will help save the earth if the worst were ever to happen. He says even though the first phase of the dart mission was a success, it will be at least a month until final data is collected.