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NASA launches historic probe to 'touch Sun'

Parker Solar Probe launch

The Parker solar probe, a robotic spacecraft the size of a small auto, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Sunday, embarking on a seven-year mission which will see it flying into the sun's corona - the outermost part of its atmosphere - within 3.8m miles (6.1 m km) of its surface.

Launching in a ball of flame that lit up the night sky, Nasa's Parker Solar Probe today set off on its seven-year odyssey to unlock the secrets of the Sun.

The shield should enable the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the fiery star, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun's surface.

The launch was called off at the last minute on Saturday after a gaseous helium pressure red alarm emerged that the scientists did not have enough time to troubleshoot.

The craft is equipped with a first of it's kind heat shield, and an internal water cooling system that will protect the instruments from the extreme conditions.

The unprecedented sun-skimming probe that lifted off today from the U.S. is set to study the "solar winds" proposed in the paper by Dr Eugene Newman Parker, who has now become the first living scientist to have mission named after him.

Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion undertaking.

"It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind", Parker said earlier this week.

The car-sized probe is created to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid. "Even I still go, really?" "It took a while for the Delta IV Heavy to clear the pad", Fox said, "but I was prepared for that, so I didn't panic".

"We've accomplished something that decades ago, lived exclusively in the realm of science fiction", he added, describing the probe as one of NASA's "strategically important" missions. By better understanding the sun's life-giving and sometimes violent nature, Earthlings can better protect satellites and astronauts in orbit, and power grids on the ground, he noted.

NASA hopes the probe will help determine which parts of the sun are providing the energy source for solar winds and solar particles, and how they accelerate to such high speeds. SolO will go to within 42 million km of the Sun's surface. "We've looked at it. But we have to go there".

The spacecraft will face heat and radiation "like no spacecraft before it", the agency said.

"Chandra, as he was popularly known, is another astrophysicist with his name tagged to a space mission, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory", Nandi said.

With a communication lag time of 16 minutes each way, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun. The trick was making the spacecraft compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds and durable enough to withstand the punishing environment. As you might guess, NASA is relying on automation to make this work.