Hexbyte – News – Science/Nature | Historic mission to ‘touch the sun’ passes final tests before launch, NASA says

Hexbyte – News – Science/Nature |

NASA says that the Parker Space Probe has passed its final inspections in the clean room as it inches closer to lifting off and becoming humanity’s first-ever mission to “touch the sun.” 

The U.S. space agency says in an update that the probe named for living astrophysicist Eugene Parker has a targeted launch date of the early morning hours of Aug. 11.

The Parker Space Probe will launch with the aid of a Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its 45-minute launch window will reportedly open at 3:48 a.m. Aug. 11.

“This is an historic mission that will revolutionize our understanding of the Sun, where changing conditions can propagate out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds,” NASA says in its latest update.

“Parker Solar Probe will travel through the Sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions — and ultimately providing humanity with the closest-ever observations of a star.”

The mission’s namesake received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Michigan State University before earning his doctorate degree at Caltech.

This represents the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living person.

In 1958, Parker studied and proposed concepts of how stars and our Sun give off energy in what he called “the solar wind.” He theorized an explanation of how the Sun’s corona is hotter than the surface of the star itself, which is a theory NASA says it has continued to focus and study in what is known as heliophysics. 

“The solar wind fills our entire solar system. When gusts of solar wind arrive at Earth, they can set off dazzling aurora — but also expose astronauts to radiation, interfere with satellite electronics, and disrupt communications signals like GPS and radio waves,” the space agency explains in a previous news release.

“The more we understand the fundamental processes that drive the solar wind, the more we can mitigate some of these effects.”

The Parker Space Probe is said to be the size of a small car, and NASA says it will attempt to travel into the Sun’s atmosphere, and face “heat and radiation unlike any spacecraft in history. The spacecraft has a “cutting-edge heat shield” that is made of two panels of superheated carbon-carbon composite sandwiching a 4.5-inch-thick carbon foam core. 

The space agency says the spacecraft will come within 4 million miles of the Sun’s surface, and that it will “provide new data on solar activity and make critical contributions to our ability to forecast major space-weather events that impact life on Earth.” 

The Parker Space Probe is to have the ability to travel at 430,000 mph, which is fast enough to travel between Washington D.C. and Tokyo in less than one minute.

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