NASA's mission to "touch the sun"

Parker Solar Probe launch

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

On board the Delta IV Heavy rocket is the Parker Solar Probe on its first mission to the sun. Its closest approach will put it at just 3.8 million miles from the Sun, at which point it should be the fastest-ever human-made object with a speed of 430,000MPH.

A last-minute technical problem delayed the rocket's planned Saturday launch, with the countdown halted with just one minute, 55 seconds remaining.

Protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wonders, the spacecraft will zip past Venus in October.

Parker Solar Probe will set its sights on the corona to solve long-standing, foundational mysteries of our Sun.

The mission is named for Dr Eugene Parker, a physicist at the University of Chicago who proposed the existence of solar wind.

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

The specially shielded Parker Solar Probe will have to endure temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) and solar radiation intensities 475 times higher than we're used to here on Earth. "The spacecraft will hurtle around the Sun at speeds up to 430,000 miles per hour".

"We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", said project scientist Nicky Fox of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, which designed the probe and manages the mission.

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NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun". "All I can say is wow, here we go".

Parker, the probe, will start shattering records this fall. "We're in for some learning over the next several years".

"The unique requirements of this mission made the Delta IV Heavy the ideal launch vehicle to deliver Parker Solar Probe into orbit with the highest precision", said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs.

A better understanding of the sun's life-giving and sometimes violent nature could also enable earthlings to better protect satellites and astronauts in orbit, along with the power grids so vital to today's technology-dependent society, said Thomas Zurbuchen, Nasa's science mission chief.

The spacecraft's heat shield will serve as an umbrella, shading the science instruments during the close, critical solar junctures.

The probe will constantly be sending back data on solar winds and energy particles.

"The Sun's energy is always flowing past our world", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement of the mission."And even though the solar wind is invisible, we can see it encircling the poles as the aurora, which are lovely ― but reveal the enormous amount of energy and particles that cascade into our atmosphere".

"Until you actually go there and touch the sun, you really can't answer these questions", said Project Scientist Nicola Fox.

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