How PIO physicist laid foundation for NASA's mission to 'touch' the Sun

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How PIO physicist laid foundation for NASA's mission to 'touch' the Sun

NASA on Sunday, August 12, blasted off its first-ever spaceship to explore the Sun, the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe, on a strategic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of unsafe solar storms.

Now, with the help of cutting-edge thermal technology that can protect the mission on its risky journey, the spacecraft's four instrument suites will study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind.

The launch was initially supposed to take place on July 31, but several technical issues pushed the attempt back to Aug 11.

The probe is named after Eugene Parker, a solar physicist, who in 1958 first predicted the existence of the solar wind, a stream of charged particles and magnetic fields that flow continuously from the sun.

In 1976 Nasa's Helios 2 spacecraft travelled within 27 million miles of the sun.

The mission's findings will help researchers improve their forecasts of space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts on orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their most severe, overwhelm power grids, NASA said.

In order to survive, the spacecraft folds its solar panels into the shadows of its protective solar shade, leaving just enough of the specially angled panels in sunlight to provide power closer to the sun.

Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA's Living with a Star program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. Sensors on the spacecraft will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times.

United Launch Alliance sent the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe into the night sky, setting it on a voyage that will bring it within 3.8 million miles of our Solar System's star at the highest speeds ever attained by a human-made device.

The SWEAP Investigation is the set of instruments on the spacecraft that will directly measure the properties of the plasma in the solar atmosphere during these encounters. To perform these unprecedented investigations, the spacecraft and instruments will be protected from the sun's heat by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield, which will need to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft that reach almost 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails and getting it launched to thinking about all the interesting things which I don't know yet, and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said.

Roughly the size of a small auto, PSP will get almost seven times closer to the sun than any previous spacecraft. Eugene Parker is a University of Chicago professor emeritus in physics who first proposed the concept of the solar wind.

"The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun", Fox said.

The second is how does a solar wind start? The spacecraft will also be prepared for the first of seven planned Venus flybys scheduled for October 2.

"We've had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams", Fox said.

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