Nasa blasts off historic probe to 'touch Sun'

The Parker Solar Probe rocketed away from Cape Canaveral, Florida, early Sunday.

The car-sized spacecraft will travel directly into the Sun's atmosphere, about four million miles from its surface - and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before, thanks to its innovative Thermal Protection System.

It will be the fastest human-made object with speeds up to 430,000 miles per hour, able to survive million degree temperatures, orbiting the sun just 4 million miles from its surface, after a 90 million-mile trip, to get the first measurements of the sun's energy.

NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun".

The mission will last 6 years and 11 months, and in that time the Parker probe will orbit the sun 24 times.

The entire project cost R20.5-billion and will continue until 2025.

Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars.

Sensors will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times and it will correct itself if it ends up at the wrong angle.

The Parker Solar Probe will have to travel about 430,000 miles per hour and use a high-tech heat shield to survive the trip.

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He proposed the existence of solar wind - a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun - 60 years ago. It has been outfitted with a heat shield created to keep its instruments at a tolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) even as the spacecraft faces temperatures reaching almost 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) at its closest pass.

NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said on Saturday that Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community", and called the probe one of NASA most "strategically important" missions. Yet the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, said: 'The sun is full of mysteries.

To "touch" the sun, the spacecraft will make a swing by Venus to shed some of its sideways momentum, allowing it to take a more straight shot toward the center of the solar system.

"We are ready. We have the flawless payload".

The spacecraft is the only NASA probe in history to be named after a living person - 91-year-old solar physicist Eugene Parker, who first described the solar wind in 1958.

The delicate instrument comes equipped with an array of instruments and tools which will scan the Sun for solar winds and magnetic fields.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel at some 430,000 miles per hours - the fastest ever human-made object, fast enough to travel from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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