Nasa spacecraft heads to sun for closest look yet

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe into Space

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe into Space

NASA has successfully launched a spacecraft destined to become the fastest man-made object ever as it gets closer to the sun than we've been before.

Liftoff took place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the U.S. early today.

The launch was originally set for Saturday morning, but was scrubbed at the last minute due to technical glitches. This followed earlier trouble in the countdown.

The Parker Solar Probe carries a lineup of instruments to study the Sun both remotely and in situ, or directly.

"We are going to be in an area that is so exciting, where solar wind - we believe - will be accelerating", said NASA planetary science division director Jim Green.

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.

These solar outbursts are poorly understood, but pack the potential to wipe out power to millions of people.

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.

Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is humanity's first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona
NASA Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is humanity's first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona

"The spacecraft will trace how energy and heat move through the Sun's atmosphere and explore what accelerates the solar wind and solar energetic particles".

The spacecraft will face heat and radiation "like no spacecraft before it", the agency said. 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.

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

"Fly baby girl, fly!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University tweeted just before lift-off, urging it to "go touch the sun!"

"We are ready. We have the ideal payload". A key question that the probe seeks to answer is how solar wind is accelerated, and for the first time it will be able to look for answers at the source of solar wind itself.

Thousands of spectators jammed the launch site, including 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker for whom the spacecraft is named.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, during a seven-year mission.

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