Launch of NASA's Parker Solar Probe a success — LIFT OFF

12 August, 2018, 16:12 | Author: Sam Montgomery
  • NASA: Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to 'touch the sun' | Daily Star

Instead, it will fly into the sun's atmosphere, where it will observe from a "safe distance" of approximately four million miles away from the star's surface - protected by a "cutting-edge heat shield".

The craft was supposed to be launched yesterday but it was cancelled due to a helium gas sensor that surpassed a launch limit on the Delta IV-Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance said.

It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn't about to let it take off without him.

"Fly baby girl, fly!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University said in a tweet right before liftoff.

Mankind's first mission to "touch" the Sun may have panned out differently had it not been for Indian-American astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, whose intervention made it possible for a research paper proposing the existence of solar wind to get published 60 years ago.

"We'll also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h (430,000mph) - NY to Tokyo in under a minute!" she told BBC News.

A last-minute technical problem delayed the rocket's planned Saturday launch, with the countdown halted with just one minute, 55 seconds remaining.

The Delta IV Heavy rocket thundered into the pre-dawn darkness, thrilling onlookers for miles around.

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The unprecedented sun-skimming probe that lifted off today from the USA is set to study the "solar winds" proposed in the paper by Dr Eugene Newman Parker, who has now become the first living scientist to have mission named after him. All I can say is: "'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next seven years".

NASA's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, was thrilled not only with the launch, but Parker's presence.

The probe will reach tremendous speeds as it orbits the sun. On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers), easily beating the current record of 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) set by NASA's Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.

Zurbuchen also described the probe as one of NASA's most "strategically important" missions.

Instruments on board may also help to explain why the corona is hotter than the sun's surface by several orders of magnitude. The first information from the mission will be transmitted back to earth later this year.

Scientists have devised ways to ensure the automated and unmanned probe does not melt in the extreme heat and radiation.

With a communication lag time of 16 minutes each way, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun.

A mission to get this close has been on NASA's books since 1958.

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