The probe is created to study the sun's ultra-hot outer atmosphere, called the corona, among other mysteries of our star.
It will be flying at speeds of 430,000 miles per hour and endure temperatures of 1,300 degrees Celsius, moving as close as within 6.16 million km of the sun's boiling surface. The next step after that will be to complete its very first solar swoop in November.
NASA launched its Parker Solar Probe at 3:31 a.m. Less than 2 minutes before its planned liftoff on Saturday (Aug. 11), a helium pressure alarm went off on the Delta IV Heavy, thwarting the day's launch attempt.
"At this point, spacecraft is up and happy", said a spokesman with United Launch Alliance, the company that operates the rocket. NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe - the size of a small vehicle and well under a ton - racing toward the sun.
The probe will be 3.9 million miles from the sun's surface, making it the closest spacecraft to the sun's surface in history. The spacecraft will also be prepared for the first of seven planned Venus flybys scheduled for October 2.
"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done incredible things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist, told CNN.
NASA Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is humanity's first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona
Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral, and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person. He said it was like looking at photos of the Taj Mahal for years and then beholding the real thing in India. But an 8-foot-wide heat shield out front - only 4.5 inches thick - should keep the probe's electronics safe at room temperature. The first science data should return sometime in December.
The probe will set earth-shattering records, getting seven times closer to the sun than ever before and eventually travelling at a speed of 430,000 miles per hour.
They include the quickest ever spacecraft, the highest velocity while leaving Earth and closest ever to reach the Sun.
Even Fox has difficulty comprehending the mission's derring-do.
At a press conference last week, Parker said of his namesake mission: "I expect to find some surprises".
I guess we'll have to wait and see what they come back with.
Zurbuchen considers the sun the most important star in our universe - it's ours, after all - and so this is one of NASA's big-time strategic missions. In today's tech-dependent society, everyone stands to benefit. It is the first NASA mission to be named for a living researcher. Among the puzzlers: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun and why is the sun's atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as Parker accurately predicted in 1958?
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