Earth lives in a shooting gallery. By astronomers’ count, there are tens of thousands of asteroids flying in the vicinity of our planet that could cause devastation if they struck us. Last fall, Ed Reynolds did something to make us all a lot safer. A program manager at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Reynolds served as project manager of NASA’s and APL’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). On Sept. 26, 2022, Reynolds oversaw the deliberate collision of a small spacecraft with the asteroid Dimorphos. The goal: to see if the impact could slow the asteroid’s speed by just over a minute, in a test of whether it would be possible to deflect a similar piece of space ordnance that was heading for Earth. The result: the orbit was slowed by a whopping 33 minutes—vastly exceeding expectations. “DART is the very start of our very first planetary defense system,” Reynolds says. “We’re in a much better place than we were before the mission.”

Kluger is a TIME editor at large

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at jeffrey.kluger@time.com.

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