The National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Tuesday said that it succeeded in deflecting an asteroid through impact with a specially-designed spacecraft.

The space agency’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft made impact with the asteroid, Dimorphos, on September 26 and successfully altered its orbit. This was the first time that human intervention has changed the orbit of a celestial object in space.

Prior to impact, Dimorphos used to take 11 hours and 55 minutes to orbit its parent asteroid, Didymos. After the collision, the orbit time has been reduced by 32 minutes to 11 hours and 23 minutes.

The asteroid pair, which loops around the sun every 2.1 years, poses no threat to earth, according to AFP. However, NASA carried out the operation as a test to examine if such a method could be used to prevent an incoming cosmic object from causing destruction on earth.

Before the mission, NASA had said that the changing the orbit period would be deemed successful if it is 73 seconds or more. Early data showed that spacecraft surpassed the benchmark by over 25 times, the United States’ space agency said.

“All of us have a responsibility to protect our home planet,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “After all, it’s the only one we have. This mission shows that NASA is trying to be ready for whatever the universe throws at us. NASA has proven we are serious as a defender of the planet.”

Nancy Chabot, the head of the DART co-ordination team, said that the mission has yielded “fascinating data” about asteroid properties and the possibility of using a kinetic impactor as planetary defence technology.

“The DART team is continuing to work on this rich dataset to fully understand this first planetary defense test of asteroid deflection,” she said.

Very few asteroids in our solar system are considered a potential threat to earth, and none of them are expected to make impact in around the next one hundred years. However, if an asteroid hits earth, it could cause enormous destruction.

Scientists cite geological evidence to state that 66 million years ago, a six-mile-wide asteroid had hit earth. The impact triggered a long global winter that caused the extinction of 75% of all species, including dinosaurs, according to experts.