Nasa Launches Historic Probe To 'touch Sun'

Parker Solar Probe

NASA on Sunday launched a "dangerous" mission to get closer than it ever gotten before to the Sun, its corona and solar wind.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket carrying NASA's Parker Solar Probe launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on August 12, 2018.

Passing within 3.8 million miles of the sun's visible surface - well within the shimmering halo of the outer atmosphere, or corona - the spacecraft's heat shield will endure 2,500-degree heating while whipping past the star at a record 430,000 mph, fast enough to fly from NY to Tokyo in less than a minute.

The Parker Solar Probe lifted off on the Delta IV Heavy rocket a day late, after a dramatic delay on Saturday saw lift-off halted with two minutes to go.

A revolutionary carbon heat shield will protect it, while the tried-but-true practice of using water inside the craft to cool it down is also being utilised. The first data download from the Parker Solar Probe is expected in early December after the probe reaches its first close approach of the sun in November.

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The unmanned Parker Solar Probe aims to get closer than any human-made object in history to the center of our solar system. But if the mission goes as planned, the probe's discoveries will serve as a lasting legacy to Eugene Parker, the only living person to have a NASA spacecraft named after him.

PSP is the only NASA mission, scientific probe to study the sun's corona and solar wind.

"The sun is full of mysteries", said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. The closest we've been before is around 27 million miles, so we're getting there. That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft. It is the first mission ever to attempt to touch the sun.

NASA project manager Andy Driesman said: "We will fly by Venus seven times throughout the mission".

"Now I have to turn from really biting my nails to thinking about the interesting things [to come] that I don't know yet, which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five, six, or seven years", he said. "Parker Solar Probe will enable groundbreaking research, making space a safer to be".

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When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel at some 430,000 miles per hour (692,000 kilometers per hour).

During the journey, the spacecraft will fly by Venus at speeds of 4,30,000 miles per hour, the equivalent of flying from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

To reach its target, the Delta 4 Heavy and a solid-propellant upper stage had to supply enough energy to counteract Earth's 18-mile-per-second orbital velocity around the sun, allowing the spacecraft to fall into the inner solar system.

I guess we'll have to wait and see what they come back with. That's further away than Parker but it will still need an impressive shield.

More than 1 million names are aboard the spacecraft, submitted last spring by space enthusiasts, as well as photos of Parker, the man, and a copy of his 1958 landmark paper on solar wind.

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