NASA's Parker Solar Probe lifts off successfully

NASA Parker Solar Probe

After the successful launch, a no doubt relieved Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of Nasa's Science Mission Directorate, said: "This mission truly marks humanity's first visit to a star that will have implications not just here on Earth, but how we better understand our universe. Parker Solar Probe has begun its mission to "touch" the Sun", NASA said in a blog post, about two hours after the lift off.

Initially, the probe is planned to launch on 11 August, right before the launch the launch was postponed.

The probe will fly close enough to observe solar winds, assess their speed and study the formation of high-energy solar particles, which are associated with flares that can wreak havoc on Earth. Parker Solar Probe will make its journey all the way to the Sun's atmosphere, or corona - closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history.

About a minute after liftoff, the craft appeared as a bright orange fireball that slowly moved across the eastern sky for a couple of minutes before disappearing into orbit.

During its nominal mission lifetime of just under seven years, the Parker Solar Probe will complete 24 orbits of the Sun - reaching within 3.8 million miles of the Sun's surface at the closest approach. It eventually will get within 3.8 million (6 million kilometers) of the surface in the years ahead, staying comfortably cool despite the extreme heat and radiation, and allowing scientists to vicariously explore the sun in a way never before possible.

With a big assist from Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA's Parker Solar Probe is now on its way to humankind's closest encounter ever with a star - in this case our solar system's sun.

"To me, it's still mind-blowing", she said. The rocket's first stage consists of three main booster cores in a side-by-side configuration, each powered by a single Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A engine generating about 700,000 pounds of thrust, for a combined total of more than 2.1 million pounds of thrust.

A special component of SWEAP is a small instrument that will look around the protective heat shield of the spacecraft directly at the sun, the only instrument on the spacecraft to do so. At a press conference last week, Parker said of his namesake mission: "I expect to find some surprises".

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

They are also curious about the solar winds that sometimes disrupt satellite and ground communications. But an 8-foot-wide heat shield out front - only 4.5 inches thick - should keep the probe's electronics safe at room temperature.

"We need to get an up-close view to see this solar processes, to improve our understanding of how the sun works", Oluseyi said.

The 8-foot (2.4-meter) heat shield will serve as an umbrella that will shade the spacecraft's scientific instruments, with on-board sensors adjusting the protective cover as necessary so that nothing gets fried.

Also, the spacecraft is created to autonomously keep itself safe and on track to the Sun as several sensors are attached to its body along the edge of the shadow from the heat shield.

A mission to get close up and personal with our star has been on NASA's books since 1958.

"Just waiting for the data now", he said.

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