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Meet Julie Bellerose: the Quebecer who deflected an asteroid


On Monday, Quebecer Julie Bellerose was at the controls of a space probe that deflected an asteroid in a planetary defence test.

The Canadian Press spoke with the woman who grew up in Sainte-Julie, Que. and dreamed of space while watching Star Wars.

Bellerose shed a tear Monday night when the space probe called Dart hit an asteroid at a speed of more than 22,500 km/h, nearly 10 million kilometres from Earth.

"I shed a tear. We were relieved to see that everything went well and that we achieved our goal, our objective with the mission, so it was amazing to see that. For sure, there were a lot of emotions, and then, it's a pride also to see that really the whole experiment worked well," said the chief navigator of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The mission was to hit the Dimorphos asteroid and vary its orbit to prepare for the moment when such a rock would actually endanger the Earth.

The US$325 million mission was the first attempt to move the position of an asteroid or any other natural object in space. The probe was launched in November 2021.

The Quebecer can now say "mission accomplished," which does not mean that the work is over.

"Now we will have to wait for the results of the measurements of the deviation, of the trajectory," so "in the next days, the next weeks, many telescopes will look at the Dimorphos asteroid."

The engineer and her team are now trying to determine "the material properties of this asteroid" because "there is a lot of uncertainty about its cohesive strength, about the material it is made of," which will influence "how the asteroid will really deflect."


The scientific prowess on display this week could be used to deflect an asteroid that threatens the Earth only if the threat is known well in advance.

"If we know that there is an asteroid coming to hit us in the next few years or the next 10 years, for example," but "if we realized that an asteroid was coming to hit us, for example, in 24 hours, that would be a different context and a different technique," the engineer explained.

"There are other techniques that are being studied, some with explosives or even nuclear techniques, and I'm sure we'd find a way if there was an imminent threat," said Bellerose.

However, the engineer wanted to reassure Earthlings, who may be nervous.

"There is no immediate danger," she said. "We have catalogued millions of asteroids, and it is unlikely, even if it is not impossible, but that's why we are doing experiments. There is no danger in the next 100 or 150 years."


Originally from Sainte-Julie, the engineer loved math, science and problem-solving, but also the Star Wars series, especially the old ones, when she was a child.

It was in her teens that Bellerose became interested in space and the celestial bodies in it.

"When Julie Payette became an astronaut, space became a little closer to me," she said.

Bellerose completed a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering at McGill University, a Master's degree in Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at the same university.

She has worked in Japan, where she supported the navigation of the JAXA Hayabusa 2 mission.

Hayabusa 2 is a space probe developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency that was launched in 2014 and will arrive at the asteroid Ryugu in 2018. The probe is to collect samples and bring them back to Earth for analysis.

She lives in Pasadena, Calif., and since the fall of 2014, has also been responsible for the trajectory of NASA's Cassini mission, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Sept. 27, 2022. Top Stories

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