NASA postpones for 24 hours launch of historic spaceship to Sun

Parker Solar Probe launch delayed until Sunday

UPDATE: NASA postpones launch of Parker Solar Probe

NASA's $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, the size of a vehicle, aims to plunge into the Sun's sizzling atmosphere and become humanity's first mission to explore a star.

As soon as the red pressure alarm for the gaseous helium system went off, a launch controller ordered, "Hold, hold, hold".

The probe is named for Eugene Parker, 91, a University of Chicago physicist who in 1958 predicted the existence of the solar wind, a constant flow of magnetized solar particles that streams out into the farthest reaches of the solar system.

At Parker Solar Probe's closest approach to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach almost 1,371 degrees Celsius, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 29.4 degrees Celsius.

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It will get more than seven times closer than the current record holder for a close solar pass, a record set by the Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976. The sun's gravity will accelerate the spacecraft to record-breaking speeds during such encounters; at its fastest, the Parker Solar Probe will go about 430,000 miles per hour (690,000 km/h), NASA officials said.

"Today, this is finally possible with cutting-edge thermal engineering advances that can protect the mission on its risky journey".

But then, the launch of NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 - becoming the first robotic spacecraft to make a successful planetary encounter - proved them wrong. Eric Christian, a space scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told UPI.

Image: The probe's orbits will gradually take it nearer to the sun.

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If scientists understand more about solar activity, they could use it to predict large solar eruptions that pose a threat to satellites orbiting the Earth.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.

"We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", said project scientist Nicky Fox from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Manned missions, such as the Apollo moon landings, were run from the Christopher C Kraft Mission Control Centre in Houston, from where it earned its famous radio call sign.

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