Ouch! How NASA finally set out to 'touch' the Sun

Dr Nicky Fox just left of centre and other members of the Parker Solar Probe team

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, carrying the spacecraft, lifted off on Saturday night from Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, its engines blazing in the clear night sky during ascent.

The probe was ferried by one of the most powerful rockets now available, the Delta IV Heavy rocket, built and operated by United Launch Alliance. The mission is targeted to last seven years, and make 24 orbits of the star, eventually approaching within just 3.8 million miles of the Sun's surface at its closest transit. The powerful rocket required 55 times more power than its takes to reach the Mars.

The probe will orbit the blistering corona, withstanding unprecedented levels of radiation and heat, in order to beam back to Earth data on the sun's activity. The Delta IV port and starboard booster engines shut down and separated, the main core booster engine cut off and then separated from the second stage. It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive.

Naming NASA's first sun-bound mission after Parker might be the ultimate homage because already in 1962, NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft found evidence of charged particles on its way to Venus, and confirmed his predictions.

Earth's average distance to the sun is 93 million miles.

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According to NASA officials, engineers added a heat shield made of a 4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fiber face sheets to keep the instruments at the "relatively comfortable temperature" of 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 degrees Celsius). A special component of SWEAP is a small instrument that will look around the protective heat shield of the spacecraft directly at the sun, the only instrument on the spacecraft to do so.

The spacecraft is named after Eugene Parker, a 91-year-old physicist who first predicted the existence of solar wind in 1958, the Daily Express says. Its trajectory will aim straight for the sun, where the probe will come closer to the solar surface than any other spacecraft in history. Physicist Eugene Parker correctly predicted the presence of solar winds almost five decades ago.

The Parker probe will start shattering records this fall. "Chandra, as he was popularly known, is another astrophysicist with his name tagged to a space mission, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory", Nandi said. Nothing from planet Earth has ever gone that fast.

"Tested to withstand up to 1,650 degrees Celsius, the TPS can handle any heat the Sun can send its way, keeping nearly all instrumentation safe", said NASA. The sun's corona itself has remained a mystery for scientists as temperatures run far hotter here than at the suns surface which shouldn't make sense.

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