Parker Solar Probe launches Saturday on mission to 'touch' the sun

This rendering demonstrates the anticipated approach of the Parker Solar Probe to the sun’s atmosphere

NASA says it's ready for a historic trip to the sun this weekend. Watch live in the player above. Equipped with a Northrup Grumman solid-fuel upper stage, the rocket will drop the spacecraft out of Earth's fast orbit around the sun, preparing it for its first gravity assist maneuver around Venus. It will have to push itself in the opposite direction of the Earth at approximately 53,000 miles per hours to achieve that and it will be forced to use another planet to help it achieve that goal.

For seven years that the mission is scheduled to last, the spacecraft will be closer than any other to the Sun, to explore the outer atmosphere of the "sun king", which will be traversed 24 times by the probe.

At its closest approach, the probe will be just 3.8 million miles above the sun's surface. In space terms, that's practically shaking hands. For the sake of the Parker mission, Betsy and her team made a thermal shield measuring 8 feet in diameter and about 4 inches thick, made of a carbon alloy. While the shield will be facing temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the spacecraft will be at a toasty but tolerable 85 degrees. The spacecraft will make a total of seven orbits around Venus.

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NASA's Parker Solar Probe will travel through the sun\'s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any other spacecraft before it. "Recent advances in materials science gave us the material to fashion a heat shield in front of the spacecraft not only to withstand the extreme heat of the Sun, but to remain cool on the backside". As reported by the Inquisitr, Dr. Parker was the first one to postulate the existence of solar wind in 1958. "We can now add solid physics to the models", Fox said.

These radioactive storms are so powerful they are able to knock out satellites, disrupt services such as communications and Global Positioning System, threaten aircraft and in even interfere with electricity supplies.

"All our data on the corona so far have been remote", said Nicholeen Viall, a solar physicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "We're actually making our first pass of the sun in November, getting our first data back by hopefully December", he said.

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Eight long years of hard work by countless engineers and scientists is finally paying off.
It will fly through the sun's corona - the outermost of its atmosphere. Apart from Parker's photo and his research paper are more than 1 million names of space fans who submitted their named to Nasa this past spring.

Plenty of spacecraft have studied the sun, of course, but none have had the potential of the new mission: neither its orbital path nor its instruments have been possible until now, despite 60 years of scientists' dreams.

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