NASA spacecraft blasts off toward sun for closest look yet

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

NASA has successfully launched a spacecraft destined to become the fastest man-made object ever as it gets closer to the sun than we've been before. It'll fly just over 6 million km from the surface - protected from the searing temperatures by a revolutionary new heat shield.

On the final three orbits, PSP flies to within 3.8 million miles of the sun's surface - more than seven times closer than the current record-holder for a close solar pass, the Helios 2 spacecraft, which came within 27 million miles in 1976, and about a tenth as close as Mercury, which is, on average, about 36 million miles from the Sun. "We have not been able to answer these questions".

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.

On its closest approach in 2024, the probe will travel at about 430,000 miles per hour, a new speed record for a manmade object, NASA said of the mission, its first to be named after a living person. Instrument testing will begin in early September and last approximately four weeks, after which Parker Solar Probe can begin science operations.

Although the probe itself is about the size of a auto, a powerful rocket is needed to escape Earth's orbit, change direction and reach the sun. Eugene Parker is a University of Chicago professor emeritus in physics who first proposed the concept of the solar wind.

This is the first time Nasa has named a spacecraft after a living person. This first flyby will place Parker Solar Probe in position in early November to fly as close as 15 million miles from the Sun - within the blazing solar atmosphere, known as the corona - closer than anything made by humanity has ever gone before.

"Eugene Parker had the vision to recognise the possibilities discussed in my thesis, and the magnanimity to write a glowing review of a thesis for an unknown student from a far away country - a PhD thesis that contradicted one of his own theories", he said.

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"What's so cool about all of this is hanging out with Parker and seeing his emotion", Zurbuchen said, adding that Parker went from being excited about the launch to being excited about the science to come.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails and getting it launched to thinking about all the interesting things which I don't know yet, and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said.

By the time Parker gets to its 22nd, 23rd and 24th orbits of the sun in 2024 and 2025, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record-breaking 430,000 miles per hour.

"Wow, here we go".

"All I can say is, 'wow, we are in for some learning for the next several years,"' he said during a post-launch interview on NASA TV.

In order to reach an orbit around the sun, the Parker Solar Probe will take seven flybys of Venus that will essentially give a gravity assist, shrinking its orbit over the course of almost seven years.

Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but it was only in recent years that the heat shield technology advanced enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments.

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