Unmanned NASA craft takes off on mission towards Sun

Parker Solar Probe launch

U.S. space agency Nasa has launched its mission to send a satellite closer to the Sun than any before. Now 91, Parker, the first living scientist to have a space probe named in his honor, flew to Cape Canaveral to witness his first rocket launch.

The probe will dip inside this tenuous atmosphere, sampling conditions, and getting to just 6.16 million km (3.83 million miles) from the Sun's broiling "surface".

The launch was originally set for Saturday morning, but was scrubbed at the last minute due to technical glitches.

It will make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission.

In this Thursday, August 9, 2018, astrophysicist Eugene Parker attends a news conference about the Parker Solar Probe named after him, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Learning more about the solar wind also will help scientists better predict the effects of solar storms and the impact of the solar wind on Earth's magnetic field, wreaking havoc with communications, power grids and navigation.

Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of MI, said: 'The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth'.

"Go, baby, go!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University shouted at liftoff. The probe's instrument payload also includes a white-light camera that will take the kinds of pictures of the shimmering corona that are seen on Earth only during a total solar eclipse. Seven Venus flybys are planned over the seven-year mission to fine-tune the trajectory, setting up the close-in aim points. NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe - the size of a small auto and well under a ton - racing toward the sun. "Even I still go, really?" NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community".

Zurbuchen considers the sun the most important star in our universe - it's ours, after all - and so this is one of NASA's big-time strategic missions. Among the puzzlers: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun and why is the sun's atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as Parker accurately predicted in 1958?

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth.

He added: "It's a whole new phase and it's gonna be fascinating throughout.and we're just waiting for the data now so the experts can get busy because there's a lot of data will be coming in".

But then, the launch of NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 - becoming the first robotic spacecraft to make a successful planetary encounter - proved them wrong.

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