‘Wow, here we go’: NASA spacecraft hurtles toward the sun

The Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft the size of a small auto, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida about 3.30am on Sunday, on a seven-year mission.

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The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe to the Sun at Cape Canaveral on Sunday.

The rocket sets a number of records.

The USD 1.5 billion mission will perform the closest-ever observations of a star when it travels through the Sun's outer atmosphere, called the corona.

The successful launch followed an aborted take-off on Saturday morning when a last-minute alarm caused it to miss its 65-minute weather window.

If all goes well, the Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, in November.

The Solar Probe Cup, dubbed "the bravest little instrument", is a sensor that will extend beyond the heat shield to "scoop up samples" of the Sun's atmosphere, according to Professor Justin Kasper of the University of MI.

The Parker probe is named after USA astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who developed a pioneering theory on supersonic solar wind in 1958. The corona holds the answers to many of scientists' outstanding questions about the Sun's activity and processes.

More than 1 million names are aboard the spacecraft, submitted last spring by space enthusiasts, as well as photos of Parker, the man, and a copy of his 1958 landmark paper on solar wind.

The Parker Solar Probe is a satellite about the size of the auto, and it is even set to become the fastest moving manmade object history as it fires towards the sun, breaking the record previously set by Pedro Obiang's absolute banger against Spurs last season.

This is the first time Nasa has named a spacecraft after a living person.

From Earth, it is 93 million miles to the sun, and the Parker probe will be within 4 percent of that distance at its closest.

Thousands of spectators jammed the launch site, including 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker for whom the spacecraft is named. "Even I still go, really?"

Embarking on a mission that scientists have been dreaming of since the Sputnik era, a Nasa spacecraft hurtled Sunday toward the sun on a quest to unlock some of its mysteries by getting closer than any object sent before. Now, with the help of cutting-edge thermal technology that can protect the mission on its unsafe journey, the spacecraft's four instrument suites will study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind.

"The sun is full of mysteries", said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

"All I can say is "Wow, here we go, we're in for some learning over the next several years", he said when asked how he felt.

"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said.

As he watched the spacecraft fly into the sky, Parker joked: "I'll bet you 10 bucks it works".

Vanessa Coleman

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