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'Wow, here we go': NASA spacecraft hurtles toward the sun

'Wow, here we go': NASA spacecraft hurtles toward the sun

NASA on Sunday successfully launched the Parker Solar Probe, the USA space agency's historic small car-size probe to 'touch the Sun, ' from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Parker Solar Probe onboard launching from the Mobile Service Tower on Sunday, Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

"It will fly directly through the Sun's atmosphere, as close as 3.8 million miles from its surface, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it", NASA wrote.

A last-minute technical problem delayed the rocket's planned Saturday launch, with the countdown halted with just one minute, 55 seconds remaining.

Protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wonders, the spacecraft will zip past Venus in October. The spacecraft will make its first close approach in early November, when it will travel 15 million miles from the Sun - inside the Sun's corona (aka the solar atmosphere).

The probe will make its closest approach in 2024 when the next total solar eclipse is expected to be seen over the US, and with that, the spacecraft will be visible.

It was Parker who accurately theorized 60 years ago the existence of solar wind - the supersonic stream of charged particles blasting off the sun and coursing through space, sometimes wreaking havoc on electrical systems on Earth. "Each time we fly by, we get closer and closer to the Sun".

The car-sized spacecraft will speed through space at 430,000mph - coming within four million miles of the Earth's nearest star by 2024.

During the journey, the spacecraft will fly by Venus at speeds of 4,30,000 miles per hour, the equivalent of flying from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

"Wow, here we go!"

With this first-of-its-kind stellar mission, scientists hope to unlock the many mysteries of the sun, a commonplace yellow dwarf star around 4.5 billion years old. "We are in for some learning over the next several years", Parker told NASA television. "It took a while for the Delta IV Heavy to clear the pad", Fox said, "but I was prepared for that, so I didn't panic".

"We've accomplished something that decades ago, lived exclusively in the realm of science fiction", he added, describing the probe as one of NASA's "strategically important" missions.

However the technology to make the spacecraft small and light enough to travel at incredible speeds - while surviving the sun's punishing environment and the extreme changes in temperature - are only now possible. The Johns Hopkins flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, will be too far away to help.

"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said. His 1958 paper was initially ridiculed but has come to be central to our understanding of the solar system and beyond.

"I'll bet you 10 bucks it works", Parker said.

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