NASA has launched its most daring solar mission Parker Solar Probe yesterday from a pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,, its powerful United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carving an arc of orange flame into the predawn sky.
If all goes according to plan, the Parker Solar Probe will end up traveling faster than any craft ever has, and getting unprecedentedly close to the sun; indeed, it will fly through our star’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona. And the measurements the probe makes there will reveal key insights about our star’s inner workings that have eluded scientists for decades.
It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn’t about to let it take off without him. Saturday morning’s launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble. But Sunday gave way to complete success.
The Delta IV Heavy rocket thundered into the pre-dawn darkness, thrilling onlookers for miles around as it climbed through a clear, star-studded sky. NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe — the size of a small car and well under a ton — racing toward the sun.
From Earth, it is 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) to the sun, and the Parker probe will be within 4 percent of that distance at its closest. That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft.