The Parker Solar Probe on Monday reached closer to the Sun than any other man-made object ever has, said the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The spacecraft, launched on August 12, is on an unprecedented mission to explore the sun’s atmosphere.

A German-American spacecraft had reached within 26.55 million miles of the Sun’s surface in April 1976 to set the previous record. The Parker Solar Probe passed the record at about 10.34 pm Indian time on Monday, NASA said. The spacecraft will move even closer, and is expected to be within 3.83 million miles of the Sun’s surface in 2024, the space body said. The earth’s average distance from the sun is 93 million miles.

“It’s been just 78 days since Parker Solar Probe launched, and we’ve now come closer to our star than any other spacecraft in history,” said Project Manager Andy Driesman. “It’s a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on October 31.”

The spacecraft’s team measures its precise speed and position using NASA’s Deep Space Network, which sends signals to the spacecraft. The spacecraft transmits the signal back, allowing the team to determine the speed and position based on the timing and characteristics of the signal. The measurements were last made on October 24, and the information was used to calculate the speed and position in the following days.

As the spacecraft moves closer to the Sun, it will “face brutal heat and radiation conditions while providing humanity with unprecedentedly close-up observations of a star and helping us understand phenomena that have puzzled scientists for decades”. “These observations will add key knowledge to NASA’s efforts to understand the Sun, where changing conditions can propagate out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds,” said NASA.

The unmanned spacecraft is named after solar physicist Eugene Parker, who first described solar wind in 1958. It is the first NASA mission to be named after a living individual. Built at a cost of $1.5 billion (Rs 10,364 crore), it will fly into the sun’s outer orbit, known as the corona.