If an asteroid really threatened the Earth, what would a planetary defense mission look like?

Someday, tucked away gathering dust in a nondescript warehouse, there will perhaps be a spacecraft waiting to be called to the launch pad, even as its builders pray it never flies.

It wouldn’t be a typical spacecraft, kitted out with as many high-tech instruments as engineers can cram aboard, and it wouldn’t be designed to tease apart a single scientific mystery. Instead, it would be assigned a far more somber task: to deflect an asteroid on course to hit Earth.

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