The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Sunday successfully launched a spacecraft on an unprecedented mission to explore the sun’s atmosphere.
The Parker Solar Probe lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the United States early on Sunday morning local time. It is set to become the fastest-moving man-made object and will take seven years to reach the sun, travelling on board the Delta-IV Heavy rocket.
The spacecraft is named after solar physicist Eugene Parker, who first described solar wind in 1958, and is the first NASA mission to be named after a living individual. The 91-year-old was present at the launch event. “Nothing compares to watching a rocket launch live,” he said.
The launch of the unmanned spacecraft, initially set for Saturday morning local time, was postponed a day to allow engineers more time to investigate a red flag raised shortly before lift-off. The countdown clock was interrupted when the rocket was on the launchpad, and the time window of 65 minutes for the launch elapsed before the problem could be solved, reported BBC.
The spacecraft is expected to help scientists learn more about the atmosphere of the sun. The Parker Solar Probe, built at a cost of $1.5 billion (Rs 10,364 crore), will fly into the sun’s outer orbit, known as the corona. A 4.5-inch-thick carbon composite shield will protect it from the tremendous heat and solar radiation,
During its mission, the probe will make 24 passes through the corona. “The 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,” NASA said on its website. “The spacecraft will use Venus’ gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the sun.”
NASA said the craft would travel to within 3.8 million miles (6.11 million km) of the sun’s surface, within the orbit of Mercury. The earth’s average distance from the sun is 93 million miles.