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Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying NASA's Parker Solar Probe mission to the sun lifts off from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on August 12, 2018.

A triple-core Delta IV Heavy rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral just after 3:30 a.m. Sunday, momentarily turning night into day in a spectacle visible for miles along the Florida coast.

The sun will be orbited 24 times by the probe to learn more about the physics of the corona, the outer ring of plasma around the star, where it is believed much of the solar activity that affects the earth originates.

A last-minute technical problem delayed the rocket's planned Saturday launch, with the countdown halted with just one minute, 55 seconds remaining.

To handle the heat it has been covered with a special 4.5 inch thick carbon-composite shield capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1,650C.

The Parker Solar Probe carries a lineup of instruments to study the Sun both remotely and in situ, or directly.

The unmanned spacecraft's mission is to get closer than any human-made object ever to the center of our solar system, plunging into the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, during a seven-year mission.

Thousands of spectators turned up at the launch site on Sunday, including Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist the spacecraft is named after.

In order to reach an orbit around the sun, the Parker Solar Probe will take seven flybys of Venus that will essentially give a gravity assist, shrinking its orbit over the course of almost seven years.

A mission to get this close has been on NASA's books since 1958.

The plan is that it will slingshot around Venus a load of times, gradually building up speed and moving closer and closer to our galaxy's star. The Parker Solar Probe is NASA's first ever named after a living person.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails in getting it launched, to thinking about all the interesting things which I don't know yet and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said on NASA TV.

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

The car-sized spacecraft will speed through space at 430,000mph - coming within four million miles of the Earth's nearest star by 2024.

"I have learnt a very important lesson of my professional scientific career from him: to be generous to the ideas of others, as long as they are not obviously wrong, and even if they contradict my own personal views", he said. Hurling a spacecraft to the sun can actually make sense. All I can say is wow, here we go. The Johns Hopkins flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, will be too far away to help.

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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