Nasa spacecraft heads to sun for closest look yet

James Marshall
August 14, 2018

The two side boosters shut down and fell away as expected a bit less than four minutes after liftoff.

Spectators lined roads and river banks overlooking Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to witness the fiery 3.31am departure of a $1.5 billion mission developed over six decades. At 5:33 a.m., the mission operations manager reported that the spacecraft was healthy and operating normally.

Embarking on a mission that scientists have been dreaming of since the Sputnik era, a Nasa spacecraft hurtled Sunday toward the sun on a quest to unlock some of its mysteries by getting closer than any object sent before.

A mission to get up close and personal with the star has been on NASA's books since 1958 - but the technology necessary to make a small, compact spacecraft, light enough to travel at incredible speeds while surviving the extreme change in temperature, heat and radiation didn't exist yet.

Passing within 3.8 million miles of the sun's visible surface - well within the shimmering halo of the outer atmosphere, or corona - the spacecraft's heat shield will endure 2,500-degree heating while whipping past the star at a record 430,000 mph, fast enough to fly from NY to Tokyo in less than a minute.

He proposed the existence of the solar wind 60 years ago.

These poorly understood solar outbursts could potentially wipe out power to millions of people.

"The Sun's energy is always flowing past our world", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement of the mission."And even though the solar wind is invisible, we can see it encircling the poles as the aurora, which are attractive ― but reveal the enormous amount of energy and particles that cascade into our atmosphere".

More knowledge of solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars.

Protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield, it is due to pass Venus in October before heading towards the sun.

Scorching, yes? But if all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

At a press conference last week, Parker said of his namesake mission: "I expect to find some surprises".

"We are ready. We have the flawless payload. We know the questions we want to answer".

Nasa's Parker Solar Probe set off yesterday on a seven-year odyssey to discover the secrets of the Sun, launching in a ball of flame that lit up the night sky.

"All I have to say is wow, here we go. We're in for some learning over the next several years", as he watched live from the base.

"This mission truly marks humanity's first visit to a star", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. It's the first NASA mission to be named for a living researcher.

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.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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