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Lift off! NASA's 'touch the sun' Parker Solar Probe mission launches

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The mission costs £1.17billion

This handout photo released by NASA shows the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Parker Solar Probe onboard shortly after the Mobile Service Tower was rolled back on August 11, 2018, Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida - NASA postponed until August 12, 2018, the launch of the first ever spacecraft to fly directly toward the Sun on a mission to plunge into our star's sizzling atmosphere and unlock its mysteries.

On board the Delta IV Heavy rocket is the Parker Solar Probe on its first mission to the sun.

The probe will dip inside this tenuous atmosphere, sampling conditions, and getting to just 6.16 million km (3.83 million miles) from the Sun's broiling "surface".

The first launch attempt on Saturday was postponed at the last minute due to technical problem related to a helium gas sensor on the rocket.

NASA hopes the probe - which was named in honor of Dr. Eugene Parker, a University of Chicago professor who successfully predicted the existence of solar wind in 1958 - will help scientists crack some of the sun's greatest mysteries, including the secret of the corona's incredibly high temperatures and the origins of and the mechanism behind the acceleration of solar wind.

The unmanned spacecraft's mission is to get closer than any human-made object ever to the center of our solar system, plunging into the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, during a seven-year mission.

Thousands of spectators turned up at the launch site on Sunday, including Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist the spacecraft is named after.

The corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system and can cause havoc with communications technology on Earth.

"Wow, here we go".

"To me, it's still mind-blowing", she said.

Zurbuchen also described the probe as one of NASA's most "strategically important" missions. By better understanding the sun's life-giving and sometimes violent nature, Earthlings can better protect satellites and astronauts in orbit, and power grids on the ground, he noted. The spacecraft will fly through the sun's outer atmosphere, the super-hot corona.

"We are thrilled with the launch and humbled to have been entrusted with this mission", Tory Bruno, ULA's President and CEO told Space.com following the launch.

The spacecraft will face heat and radiation "like no spacecraft before it", the agency said.

Yanping Guo, who designed the mission trajectory, said: "The launch energy to reach the Sun is 55 times that required to get to Mars, and two times that needed to get to Pluto". 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.

"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said.

"I'll bet you 10 bucks it works", Parker said.

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