NASA Spacecraft Launched by United Launch Alliance

NASA Spacecraft Launched by United Launch Alliance

The Parker Solar Probe, a seven-year NASA mission that will study the Sun from inside its corona, has launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The spacecraft - nestled atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, one of the world's most powerful rockets, with a third stage added - blasted off toward the Sun with a whopping 55 times more energy than is required to reach Mars.

During its 7-year mission, the Parker Solar Probe will come at its closest from the sun's surface at about 3.8 million miles and will make 24 passes by the solar corona where temperatures range from a few thousand up to a few million degrees. This was the 37 launch of the Delta IV rocket, and the 10 in the Heavy configuration.

This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after a living person.

NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe for a mission to the sun on Sunday, August 12th. It will attempt to get within 4 million miles of the sun. It's created to take solar punishment like never before, thanks to its revolutionary heat shield that's capable of withstanding 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius). These instruments will be protected from the extreme temperatures by a heat shield made from a carbon composite foam sandwiched between two carbon plates.

But certainly, it'll be a deeper understanding of the star that gives us life.

Named after 91-year-old physicist Eugene Parker, the probe will study the nature of solar wind, which Parker first hypothesised in 1958.

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Among the curiosities is the apparent mismatch between the temperature of the Sun's visible surface, which measures about 5,500 degrees Celsius and the hundreds of times higher temperature of the corona, which reaches temperatures of about 5,500,000 degrees Celsius.

"We've accomplished something that decades ago, lived exclusively in the realm of science fiction", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said.

"All I can say is, 'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next several years", Parker said. The NASA earlier invited people around the world to submit their names online to be placed on the microchip aboard the historic Parker Solar Probe mission. Yet the inside of the spacecraft will stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Q: What data will the probe be collecting, and what insights are scientists ultimately hoping to gain from these data?

The spacecraft's heat shield will serve as an umbrella, shading the science instruments during the close, critical solar junctures.

Sitting on the observation deck of NASA's Operations Support Building 2 (OSB-2 for short), Parker watched with his family, Fox, Zurbuchen, and other VIPs as the rocket carrying his namesake ascended towards the sky.