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NASA to bring sun's mysteries to light

NASA to bring sun's mysteries to light

Less than two years after Parker's paper was published, his theory of solar wind was confirmed by satellite observations. Many were skeptical and told him to read up on it first "so you don't make these killer mistakes", he recalls.

An illustration of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the sun.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. NASA is sending a spacecraft straight into the sun's glittering crown, an atmospheric region so hot and harsh any normal visitor would wither.

NASA's Parker Solar Probe - the space agency's new spacecraft created to "touch the sun" - is packed up, buckled in and ready to launch during a window opening Saturday (Aug. 11) at 3:33 a.m. EDT (0733 GMT) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, according to a NASA news conference today (Aug. 9).

The U.S. got a glimpse of the sun's glowing, spiky crown, or corona, during last August's coast-to-coast total solar eclipse.

"This could help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth, triggering space weather that could disrupt Global Positioning System, radio, radar and the electric grid", said Justin Kaspar, a professor at the University of MI and a principle investigator for the Parker Solar Probe.

Parker's 8-foot heat shield is just 4½ inches thick.

The Sun-facing side of the probe will endure temperatures of about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 Celsius). "It allows the spacecraft to operate at about room temperature".

NASA's Parker Solar Probe will travel through the sun\'s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any other spacecraft before it. As one scientist notes, this is a shield Captain America would envy.

The launch window was chosen because the probe will rely on Venus to help it achieve an orbit around the sun.

"Eight long years of hard work by countless engineers and scientists is finally paying off", said Adam Szabo, the mission scientist for Parker Solar Probe at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Equipped with a Northrup Grumman solid-fuel upper stage, the rocket will drop the spacecraft out of Earth's fast orbit around the sun, preparing it for its first gravity assist maneuver around Venus. Its handlers will gradually bring the probe closer and closer to the Sun over its 6+ year mission, but by the time it begins its final orbits it's going to be moving faster than anything mankind has ever built before.

The records will start falling as soon as Parker takes its first run past the sun.

"NASA was planning to send a mission to the solar corona for decades, however, we did not have the technology that could protect a spacecraft and its instruments from the heat", said Szabo. On its final approach, it will be zipping through space at 430,000 miles per hour.

Our yellow dwarf star is, in many ways, a mystery.

Another very weird thing about the Sun's corona is that it is much hotter than the surface of the Sun itself.

"Parker Solar Probe uses Venus to adjust its course and slow down in order to put the spacecraft on the best trajectory", said Driesman. Vindication came with NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962.

The Parker Solar Probe will blast off aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy Rocket from Space Complex 37 at Capanerval Air Force Station, Florida.On its journey to the sun, the probe will face extreme heat and radiation, making it the closest any spacecraft has ever been. It's the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone who's still alive.

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