NASA blasts off historic spaceship to Sun

Parker Solar Probe

NASA's Parker Solar Probe, mankind's first mission to "touch" the Sun, has been launched today on a seven-year long journey to unlock the mysteries of our star's fiery outer atmosphere and its effects on space weather.

The $1.5 billion (£1.2 billion) probe, which is the size of the auto, will play a vital role in our understanding of the solar system.

The probe will dip inside this tenuous atmosphere, sampling conditions, and getting to just 6.16 million km (3.83 million miles) from the Sun's broiling "surface".

It is said to endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times greater than that experienced on Earth.

The craft was supposed to be launched yesterday but it was cancelled due to a helium gas sensor that surpassed a launch limit on the Delta IV-Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance said.

These solar outbursts are poorly understood, but pack the potential to wipe out power to millions of people.

To handle the heat it has been covered with a special 4.5 inch thick carbon-composite shield capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1,650C.

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If all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Parker Solar Probe carries a lineup of instruments to study the Sun both remotely and in situ, or directly.

"We are ready. We have the ideal payload".

The spacecraft is named after 91-year old solar physicist Eugene Parker, 91, who was the first scientist to describe solar wind in 1958.

Parker said last week that he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

A white light imager will take images of the atmosphere right in front of the Sun.

During its historic journey, the probe will jet past Venus at speeds of 430,000 miles per hour, the equivalent of flying from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

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