NASA successfully launches the mission to touch the Sun

Parker Solar Probe

The Parker Solar Probe is the first mission of its kind

The extreme pull of the sun's gravity will then accelerate the probe up to insane speeds of as much as 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 km/h) as it grazes the edge of the most powerful object in our corner of the galaxy.

"The launch energy to reach the Sun is 55 times that required to get to Mars, and two times that needed to get to Pluto", said Yanping Guo from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who designed the mission trajectory.

The launch was initially supposed to take place on July 31, but several technical issues pushed the attempt back to Aug 11.

The spacecraft, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, will transmit its first scientific observations in December, beginning a revolution in our understanding of the star that makes life on Earth possible. 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.

The Parker Solar Probe launch was delayed several times already, but needed to launch by August 19 to line up flyby of Venus, which will act as a slingshot to get PSP into the right trajectory away from Earth toward the sun, for its seven-year mission, orbiting the sun seven times.

Solar wind is a steady stream of plasma and particles moving away from the sun and into outer space. It could also improve predictions of so-called space weather, which can damage satellites, endanger astronauts and disrupt power grids on Earth.

A trio of first-stage boosters fired hydrogen-fueled engines to light up the night sky above Launch Complex 37, unleashing 2.1 million pounds of thrust to begin the probe's seven-year mission.

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When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - about 690,000 kilometres per hour, making it the fastest man-made object. "We're finally going to be able to answer questions about the corona and solar wind raised by Gene Parker in 1958 - using a spacecraft that bears his name - and I can't wait to find out what discoveries we make". Along the way, the spacecraft will gather data to try and solve some of the sun's great mysteries. That may sound like a lot of distance, but the corona of the sun is hotter than the surface of the sun itself; its temperature is measured in the millions of degrees.

Once on its way, the Parker probe will venture closer to our star than any other spacecraft.

It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. To snuggle up to the sun, it will fly past Venus seven times over seven years.

Astrophysicist Eugene Parker, centre, stands in front of the rocket carrying the solar probe named after him.

"At this point, spacecraft is up and happy", said a spokesman with United Launch Alliance, the company that operates the rocket.

"It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind", Parker said earlier this week.

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