NASA blasts off historic spaceship to Sun

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

Weighing 685 kilograms fully fueled, the Parker Probe is relatively small in comparison to other NASA science missions such as the Mars Science Laboratory which weighed about 3,900 kilograms at launch.

"I'm just so glad to be here with him", said NASA's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen.

"Three, two, one, zero, and liftoff!"

"The key lies in its custom heat shield and an autonomous system that helps protect the mission from the Sun's intense light emission, but does allow the coronal material to "touch" the spacecraft", NASA said in a statement.

Parker Solar Probe on a ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018.

The launch of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the spacecraft was scrubbed yesterday due to a violation of a launch limit, resulting in a hold.

The spacecraft will fly straight through the edges of the outer solar atmosphere, or cornea, making it the first spacecraft to fly that close to the sun.

It is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that can endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times that experienced on Earth. The spacecraft will transmit its first science observations in December, beginning a revolution in our understanding of the star that makes life on Earth possible.

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.

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

A worst-case scenario would cost up to two trillion dollars in the first year alone and take a decade for full recovery, experts say.

"Exploring the Sun's corona with a spacecraft has been one of the hardest challenges for space exploration", said Nicola Fox, project scientist at APL. "We're finally going to be able to answer questions about the corona and solar wind raised by Gene Parker in 1958 - using a spacecraft that bears his name - and I can't wait to find out what discoveries we make".

At closest approach, the solar shield of the probe will face temperatures approaching 1,377 degrees Celsius.

If all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

It will make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission.

"We are ready. We have the flawless payload".

The spacecraft is named for Eugene N. Parker, a retired University of Chicago astrophysicist who was the first to predict the solar wind.

Sunday's flight of his namesake mission was the first rocket launch Parker had seen in person, an experience he likened to seeing the Taj Mahal up close rather than in pictures or on TV.

"We've accomplished something that decades ago, lived exclusively in the realm of science fiction", Zurbuchen said.

Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations.

Zurbuchen considers the sun the most important star in our universe - it's ours, after all - and so this is one of NASA's big-time strategic missions.

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

The mission's objectives include "tracing the flow of energy that heats and accelerates the sun's corona and solar wind, determining the structure and dynamics of the plasma and magnetic fields at the sources of the solar wind and explore mechanisms that accelerate and transport energetic particles".

The probe will reach a speed of 430,000 miles per hour around the sun, setting a record for the fastest manmade object.

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