‘Touch the sun': NASA spacecraft hurtles toward our star

The Delta IV rocket carrying the Parker Solar Probe lifts off from launch complex 37 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on Sunday

PATRICK MOORE: Liftoff of the mighty Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA's Parker Solar Probe - a daring mission to shed light on the mysteries of our closest star, the Sun. It will study the sun as never before, giving us clues into how and why our closest star behaves the way it does.

The launch of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the spacecraft was scrubbed on Saturday due to a violation of a launch limit, resulting in a hold.

Additionally, the third stage includes the STAR 49BV solid rocket motor, which is created to place the spacecraft into its final trajectory.

The size of a small vehicle, weighing under a ton and travelling at speeds 15 times that of a speeding bullet, the probe will be protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield as it travels seven times closer to the sun than any previous spacecraft facing temperatures of over 1,300 degrees Celsius. In fact, the probe was named after Parker because of his discovery - and the 91-year-old scientist was even there to watch it launch.

"Exploring the Sun's corona with a spacecraft has been one of the hardest challenges for space exploration", said Nicola Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), where the probe was designed and built.

"He gave me a running commentary through the entire thing and now takes full credit for my interest in space", she said.

In reality, it should come within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun's surface, close enough to study the curious phenomenon of the solar wind and the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, which is 300 times hotter than its surface.

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It will fly directly through the Sun's atmosphere, as close as 3,8-million miles from its surface, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it.

NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun".

It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, a retired University of Chicago professor.

Two decades later, just around the time NASA was abuzz with its historic mission to touch the Sun - Parker Solar Probe, Gizmodo.com asked scientists: "Why is 'Walkin' on the Sun' actually pretty timely right now, scientifically speaking?" "We at NASA and the Launch Services Program are thrilled to be part of this mission".

NASA's Parker Solar Probe is on its way for a rendezvous with the Sun. "Parker Solar Probe would be just 4cm away from the Sun".

The 8-foot (2.4-meter) heat shield will serve as an umbrella that will shade the spacecraft's scientific instruments, with on-board sensors adjusting the protective cover as necessary so that nothing gets fried.

Parker will slingshot around Venus multiple times in order to gain momentum and with each orbit, it will gradually move closer and closer to the sun.

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