NASA’s Mission To The Sun Cleared For Saturday Launch

NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

The Parker Solar Probe, NASA’s epic mission to “touch” the sun, has been cleared to take off on August 11, reports CBS News.

The launch window opens bright and early on Saturday morning, at 3:33 a.m. EDT, and lasts for 65 minutes. However, the launch period will remain open until August 23, as recently reported by the Inquisitr.

This historic mission sets out to unravel some of the biggest puzzles regarding our sun, its scorching outer atmosphere known as the solar corona, and the solar wind — the mysterious outflow of charged particles it oozes into the solar system.

“Stay tuned — Parker is about to take flight,” NASA announced today in a news release, which summarized the solar probe’s mission and the eight year-long effort it took to finally see it soar to the heavens.

Saturday’s launch is expected to go on smoothly, as proven by a launch rehearsal carried out on August 8, reports The weather forecast shows the elements will not interfere with the big event, predicting a 70 percent chance of acceptable weather.

The spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and will be hitching a ride on board United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy rocket, which has an added third stage and is all geared up for a speedy liftoff.

According to NASA, the Delta IV Heavy, the world’s second most powerful rocket, will blast the probe into space “with a whopping 55 times more energy than is required to reach Mars.” Equipped with a Northrup Grumman solid-fuel upper stage, the rocket will drop the spacecraft out of Earth’s fast orbit around the sun, preparing it for its first gravity assist maneuver around Venus.

Throughout the mission’s duration, the Parker Solar Probe will pass by Venus several time, using the planet’s gravity to slow down and adjust its speed, each time getting closer and closer to the center of our solar system.

Parker Solar Probe: The Numbers

Humanity’s first journey to the sun will go down in history for several pioneering achievements.

The mission’s numbers speak for themselves:

  • Speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour, breaking the record for fastest spacecraft
  • Seven years in space
  • Seven flybys of Venus for gravity assist
  • 24 orbits of the sun
  • Closest approach within 3.8 million miles of the sun’s surface
  • First-ever trip through the solar corona
  • 1.1 million names taken along for the ride

“NASA was planning to send a mission to the solar corona for decades. However, we did not have the technology that could protect a spacecraft and its instruments from the heat,” said Adam Szabo, the mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

But the Parker Solar Probe will hopefully have no such issue, thanks to a state-of-the-art heat shield that not only can brave the blistering heat of the sun, but will also make sure the spacecraft stays cool, the Inquisitr previously reported.

The mission is also the first one to ever be named after a living scientist, astrophysicist Eugene Parker from the University of Chicago, Illinois. As reported by the Inquisitr, Dr. Parker was the first one to postulate the existence of solar wind in 1958.

The Parker Solar Probe has gained a lot of fame as humanity’s first mission to finally unlock the secrets of the solar corona and find out why it’s so much hotter than the actual surface of the sun.

“All of our data on the corona so far have been remote,” said Nicholeen Viall, solar physicist at Goddard. “We have been very creative to get as much as we can out of our data, but there is nothing like actually sticking a probe in the corona to see what’s happening there.”

The big launch is now less than 40 hours away, with the probe’s first close approach to the sun slated for November.