How PIO physicist laid foundation for NASA's mission to 'touch' the Sun

Posted August 13, 2018

NASA launched its Parker Solar Probe at 3:31 a.m.

As detailed by NASA, the Parker Solar Probe's mission is to "touch" the sun by using gravity assists from Venus to get itself as close as possible to the Earth's nearest star.

Scientists hope this close encounter will give them a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

"The spacecraft must operate in the sun's corona, where temperatures can reach millions of degrees", Brown told ABC News via email. The cup will glow red when the probe makes its closest approach to the sun, sampling the solar wind and effectively touching the sun.

Trailing a plume of fiery exhaust visible for scores of miles around, the huge 1.6-million-pound rocket majestically climbed away from launch complex 37B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, arcing away on an easterly trajectory over the Atlantic Ocean.

The probe will constantly be sending back data on solar winds and energy particles.

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The Parker probe, which cost a whopping $1.5bn (£1.17bn) left Cape Canaveral last night atop a enormous rocket, bound for the centre of our galaxy.

This is the first time that NASA has named a rocket after a living person, Parker, who proposed the existence of solar wind - a stream of charged particles released from the sun's upper atmosphere 60 years ago.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails in getting it launched, to thinking about all the interesting things which I don't know yet and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said on NASA TV.

"It's a whole new phase, and it's going to be fascinating throughout".

"Wow, here we go".

"Three, two, one, zero, and liftoff!"

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"All I can say is "Wow, here we go, we're in for some learning over the next several years", he said when asked how he felt.

Obviously, it's going to be bloody warm out there, but fear not - the probe has a revolutionary new heat shield that is meant to stop it burning up.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius). "In 10 to 20 years, a carbon disk will be floating around the sun in orbit, and it will be around until the end of the solar system", CNN quoted Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, as saying. The upper stage then ignited for a short burn, supplying more than half of the probe's final velocity. Sensors on the spacecraft will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times.

The car-sized probe will utilise Venus to try and achieve an orbit around the sun by helping to slow it down.

"We've had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams", Fox said.

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