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Parker Solar Probe: Nasa sets out to explore the Sun
Unmanned NASA craft takes off on mission towards Sun
12 August 2018, 04:12 | Ross Houston
NASA Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to high-five the sun
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.
Scientists at the space agency were due to launch the probe yesterday - but it was called off due to "gaseous helium red pressure alarm".
NASA project manager Andy Driesman said: "We will fly by Venus seven times throughout the mission".
"Until you actually go there and touch the sun, you really can't answer these questions", said Project Scientist Nicola Fox.
Thousands of spectators jammed the launch site, including 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker after whom the spacecraft is named.
The Parker Solar Probe carries a lineup of instruments to study the Sun both remotely and in situ, or directly.
Nasa has launched a probe that will head closer to the sun than any other spacecraft before it.
"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.
The Delta IV Heavy rocket thundered into the pre-dawn darkness, thrilling onlookers for miles around.
It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.
"I really have to turn from biting my nails in getting it launched, to thinking about all the interesting things which I don't know yet and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said on NASA TV. NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community".
The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, during a seven-year mission.
The car-sized spacecraft will speed through space at 430,000mph - coming within four million miles of the Earth's nearest star by 2024.
Zurbuchen also described the probe as one of NASA's most "strategically important" missions.
Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.
It is said to endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times greater than that experienced on Earth.
A mission to get close up and personal with our star has been on NASA's books since 1958.
With a communication lag time of 16 minutes each way, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun.
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