Image of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe in front of the Sun (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben)
CAPE CANAVERAL – NASA is set to launch its Parker Solar Probe Saturday on a historic mission that “touch the Sun.”
The solar probe will be the first spacecraft to fly by the Sun (the corona is the outermost part of the atmosphere of the star. “Parker Solar Probe will revolutionize our understanding of the Sun,” says NASA on its website.
“The coolest, hippest mission, baby, that’s what it is,” said Nicola Fox, the project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University.
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Parker will blast off aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The 65-minute launch window for the mission opens at 3:33 pm EDT on Aug. 11, 2018.
The probe will be confronted with “brutal” heat and radiation in an epic journey that will take you to within 3.8 million miles of the Sun’s surface, according to the space agency. This is seven times closer than the previous closest spacecraft, Helios 2, which came within 27 million miles of the Sun in 1976.
The average distance between the Sun and the Earth is 93 million miles.
Parker must withstand temperatures of more than 2500 degrees Fahrenheit to his daring mission. To achieve this, the probe can be protected by a special 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield. Safe in the spaceship, but the probe’s payload works at room temperature.
The use of Venus’ gravity, Parker will complete seven flybys more than seven years gradually its orbit closer to the Sun. At its closest approach, the probe will travel in approximately 430,000 km / h.
Scientists expect that the $1.5 billion mission to shed light not only on our own dynamic Sun, but the billions of other yellow dwarf stars — and other types of star in the Milky way and beyond. While granting us life, the Sun also has the power to interfere with spacecraft in orbit, and communications and electronics on Earth.
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Parker was designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory of the Johns Hopkins University.
The probe, named after a pioneering solar physicist Dr. Eugene Parker, will be a treasure trove of valuable data for scientists.
The Sun is the source of the solar wind, a stream of ionized gases that flow along the Earth at a million miles per hour, the space agency explains. “Disturbances in the solar wind shake the Earth’s magnetic field and pump energy into the radiation belts, part of a set of changes in the area of the Earth known as space weather,” it says. “The space can the orbits of the satellites, shorten their life, or interfere with integrated electronics. The more we learn about what the causes of space weather to predict the more we can protect the satellites we depend on.”
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NASA adds that the solar wind dominates the environment in the space far outside the Earth. “If we send space ships and astronauts further and further from home, we must understand this environment in the space, just as early navigators needed to understand the ocean,” he explains.
The project was presented in 1958 to a new NASA, and “60 years later, and it is becoming a reality,” says project manager Andy Driesman, also of Johns Hopkins, who designed and built the spacecraft. The technology to survive such a close solar encounter, while still being light enough for the flight, was not available until now.
The instruments on board, Parker will be the study of magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles as well as the image of the solar wind.
The Sun, the corona, which can be seen during a total solar eclipse, is mostly hidden by the bright light of the star from the surface. “That makes it difficult to see without the use of special instruments,” the space agency explains.
United Launch Alliance is also involved in NASA’s Commercial Crew program that the American astronauts in the space missions launched from U.S. soil. Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. has been relying on the Russian Soyuz rockets launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, astronauts to the International Space Station.
Last week NASA, with the name of the nine American astronauts who the crew of the test flights and the first missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. The Starliner will launch on a ULA Atlas V rocket.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers