NASA launches Parker Solar Probe in first mission to 'touch Sun'

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The probe will be 3.9 million miles from the sun's surface, making it the closest spacecraft to the sun's surface in history.

The Parker Solar Probe took off this morning from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after NASA was forced to postpone the launch on August 11.

The Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft the size of a small vehicle, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida about 3:30 a.m. Sunday, on a seven-year mission.

The car-sized probe will give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

"So it's of fundamental importance for us to be able to predict this space weather much like we predict weather here on Earth". Its closest approach will put it at just 3.8 million miles from the Sun, at which point it should be the fastest-ever human-made object with a speed of 430,000MPH.

It is the first space craft to be named after a living person - astrophysicist Eugene Parker, 91, who first described solar wind in 1958.

From Earth, it is 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) to the sun, and the Parker probe will be within 4 percent of that distance at its closest.

The spacecraft is equipped with a 4.5-inch-thick, 8-foot-wide carbon composite shield that should keep the electronics at their proper operating temperature even amid temperatures that would melt aluminum.

However the technology to make the spacecraft small and light enough to travel at incredible speeds - while surviving the sun's punishing environment and the extreme changes in temperature - are only now possible.

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"All I can say is, wow, here we go, we're in for some learning over the next several years", University of Chicago solar physicist Eugene Parker said just after liftoff.

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, during a seven-year mission.

I guess we'll have to wait and see what they come back with.

The goal is to help scientists figure out what makes the corona hotter than the sun's visible surface and what accelerates charged particles to enormous velocities, producing the solar wind that streams away from the corona in all directions.

"Now I have to turn from really biting my nails to thinking about the interesting things [to come] that I don't know yet, which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five, six, or seven years", he said.

He added: "It's a whole new phase and it's gonna be fascinating throughout.and we're just waiting for the data now so the experts can get busy because there's a lot of data will be coming in". The spacecraft will also be prepared for the first of seven planned Venus flybys scheduled for October 2.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

NASA on Sunday, August 12, blasted off its first-ever spaceship to explore the Sun, the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe, on a strategic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of unsafe solar storms.

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