NASA spacecraft hurtles toward sun


Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.

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.

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. In the years ahead, it will gradually get within 3.8 million miles of the surface, its instruments protected from the extreme heat and radiation by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wizardry.

Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to our star during the seven-year, $1.5 billion journey.

“Wow, here we go. We’re in for some learning over the next several years,” said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.

It was Parker who accurately theorized 60 years ago the existence of solar wind – the supersonic stream of charged particles blasting off the sun and coursing through space, sometimes wreaking havoc on electrical systems on Earth.

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

A Saturday morning launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble. But Sunday gave way to complete success.

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