NASA Launches Mission to 'Touch the Sun'

Parker Solar Probe launch delayed until Sunday

NASA early Saturday scrubbed its planned launch of humankind's first probe to the sun, planning to try again Sunday morning.

NASA stated: "Parker Solar Probe will provide unprecedented information about our sun, where changing conditions can spread out into the solar system to affect Earth and other worlds". Here's a look at the mission and what it seeks to achieve.

The launch of the Parker Solar Probe will set it on a journey all the way to the Sun's atmosphere, or corona - closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history.

Among the mysteries scientists hope to solve: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface, which is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius)?

The car-sized probe is created to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

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The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 11.43 centimetres thick.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth.

Awaiting liftoff, the car-sized probe is already packed on to the Delta IV-Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometres), easily beating the current record of 27 million miles (43 million kilometres) set by NASA's Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.

These solar outbursts are poorly understood, but pack the potential to wipe out power to millions of people.

The probe will be controlled from the Mission Operations Centre based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), which is where NASA handles its unmanned missions.

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"The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun", Fox said.

A series of instruments on board the spacecraft will measure the magnetic and electric fields, plasma waves and high energy particles.

The probe will make at least 24 passes around the sun, with gravity assists from Venus for seven of them, and continue going after that as long as it has propellant. "We have not been able to answer these questions".

The Parker probe's final three orbits - in 2024 and 2025 - will be the closest.

"We'll also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h (430,000mph) - NY to Tokyo in under a minute!" she told BBC News.

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Among them was Eugene Parker, the University of Chicago astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.

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