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NASA, ULA to try again tonight to launch Parker Solar Probe

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The spacecraft will use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to gradually shrink its orbit around the sun. Pic John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab

The red pressure alarm for the gaseous helium system had gone off.

Thousands of spectators gathered in the middle of the night on Friday to witness the launch, including the University of Chicago astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.

As the Parker Solar Probe probe orbits the sun, it will experience extreme radiation and temperatures as high as 1,377C (2,510F) - close to the melting point of steel.

The probe's seven-year journey will bring it to within 6.16 million kilometers (3.83 million miles) of the sun's surface.

It will get more than seven times closer than the current record holder for a close solar pass, a record set by the Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.

The corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system.

"The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth", said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of MI.

"Today, this is finally possible with cutting-edge thermal engineering advances that can protect the mission on its unsafe journey". He's now 91 and eager to see the solar probe soar. Engineers tried to identifiy the problem, but the launch window - when a spacecraft can take off in the right direction due to the Earth's rotation - closed before they could make progress. Nasa hopes the findings will enable scientists to forecast changes in Earth's space environment.

The probe is going to fly directly into the sun's atmosphere and trace the movement of energy and heat with the particles that form solar winds. At those speeds, it will reach the sun by November and should beam data back by the end of the year.

The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer be able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the Sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield.

Among the questions NASA is seeking to answer are why the corona is hotter than the sun's surface, as well as why the atmospheres is continually expanding and continually accelerating away from the star.

This image made available by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 depicts NASA's Solar Probe Plus spacecraft approaching the sun.

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