NASA spacecraft blasts off toward sun for closest look yet

NASA: Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to 'touch the sun' | Daily Star

NASA: Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to 'touch the sun' | Daily Star

"We've accomplished something that decades ago, lived exclusively in the realm of science fiction", he added, describing the probe as one of NASA's "strategically important" missions. The mission will rely on measurements and imaging to revolutionise our understanding of the corona and how processes there ultimately affect near-Earth space.

A NASA spacecraft has taken off on an historic mission towards the Sun in a delayed launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The Solar Probe Cup, dubbed "the bravest little instrument", is a sensor that will extend beyond the heat shield to "scoop up samples" of the Sun's atmosphere, according to Professor Justin Kasper of the University of MI.

"We're in for some learning for the next several years", said Eugene Parker, 91, the retired solar physicist after whom the spacecraft is named.

"We've had to wait so long for our technology to catch up to our dreams", said project scientist Nicola Fox of John Hopkins University.

They want to know why the outermost part of the star's atmosphere, the corona, is much hotter than the surface. They include the quickest ever spacecraft, the highest velocity while leaving Earth and closest ever to reach the Sun.

The spacecraft's path through the corona allows it to observe the acceleration of the very solar wind that Parker predicted, right as it makes a critical transition from slower than the speed of sound to faster than it. These solar winds can cause disturbances in Earth's magnetic field and also cause hindrances with communications systems.

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The project, with a $1.5 billion (1.17 billion pounds) price tag, is the first major mission under NASA's Living With a Star program.

Parker, who first detailed the possibility of solar winds all the way back in 1958, said of the launch "Wow, here we go!" Parker Solar Probe and its instruments will be protected from the Sun's heat by a 4.5-inch-thick, carbon-carbon composite heat shield. His mission for 8 years, during which the probe will approach the Sun at a record distance of six million kilometers. Hurling a spacecraft to the sun can actually make sense. The trick was making the spacecraft small, compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds, while surviving the sun's punishing environment and the extreme change in temperature when the spacecraft is out near Venus.

Corona is known to give rise to solar wind that can penetrate through the solar system because of the continuous flow of its charged particles.

"The spacecraft must operate in the sun's corona, where temperatures can reach millions of degrees", Brown told ABC News via email.

The Parker Probe is named after Dr. Eugene Parker, the astrophysicist given credit behind the solar wind theory in the late 1950's. Seven Venus flybys are planned over the seven-year mission to fine-tune the trajectory, setting up the close-in aim points.

It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket is one of the most powerful rockets in the world, designed and built by the United Launch Alliance.

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