Unmanned NASA craft takes off on mission towards Sun

Parker Solar Probe

Parker Solar Probe

Embarking on a mission that scientists have been dreaming of since the Sputnik era, a Nasa spacecraft hurtled Sunday toward the sun on a quest to unlock some of its mysteries by getting closer than any object sent before.

The Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft the size of a small auto, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida about 3:30 a.m. Sunday, on a seven-year mission.

The probe, about the size of a auto, will fly through the Sun's atmosphere and will come as close as 3.8 million miles to the star's surface, well within the orbit of Mercury and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before (Earth's average distance to the Sun is 93 million miles), according to NASA. The launch was set to take place Saturday but was postponed. To perform these unprecedented investigations, the spacecraft and instruments will be protected from the sun's heat by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield, which will need to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft that reach almost 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

It will reach Venus in October and will have its first solar encounter in November.

The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission.

Parker, who first theorized that solar wind existed 60 years ago, added, "It's a whole new phase, and it's going to be fascinating throughout". To snuggle up to the sun, it will fly past Venus seven times over seven years.

"We are thrilled with the launch and humbled to have been entrusted with this mission", Tory Bruno, ULA's President and CEO told Space.com following the launch.

NASA successfully launched a spacecraft toward the sun on Sunday, hoping to increase scientific understanding of how our star works.

"Chandra, as he was popularly known, is another astrophysicist with his name tagged to a space mission, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory", Nandi said. What kind of effects will the probe experience as it orbits the sun, and what about the spacecraft will help it stay on course?

Parker, the probe, will start shattering records this fall.

That will make it the fastest ever human-made object, speedy enough to travel from NY to Tokyo in one minute. "Even I still go, really? But we have to go there".

The probe is guarded by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick, enabling the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the fiery star. With a communication lag time of 16 minutes, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun. The Johns Hopkins flight controllers in Laurel, Md., will be too far away to help.

"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said. "It's incredible to be standing here today".

Finally, after two firings of the second-stage engine, the Parker Solar Probe and its Northrup Grumman solid-fuel upper stage were released from the Delta 4.

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education.

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