The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched on Sunday its Parker Solar Probe spacecraft in an unprecedented quest to get closer to the sun than anything previously sent before. The spacecraft will transmit its first scientific observations in December, beginning a revolution in our understanding of the star that makes life on earth possible.
Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5bn undertaking.
Findings of the probe’s mission aim at to assist researchers improve their forecasts of space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts in orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their worst, overwhelm power grids, according to a NASA statement.
“This mission truly marks humanity’s first visit to a star that will have implications not just here on earth, but how we better understand our universe,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s science mission directorate, adding, “we’ve accomplished something that decades ago, lived solely in the realm of science fiction.”
Project manager Andy Driesman, from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, said that working on the project took six decades of scientific study and millions of hours of effort, and the launch of the spacecraft represents the culmination of that great work.
“Now, Parker Solar Probe is operating normally and, on its way, to begin a seven-year mission of extreme science,” he added.
The mission of the spacecraft will take seven years, including making six more Venus flybys and 24 total passes by the sun, journeying steadily closer to the sun until it makes its closest approach at 3.8mn miles. At this point, the probe will be moving at roughly 430,000 miles per hour, setting the record for the fastest-moving object made by humanity.