NASA ready for trip to the sun

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Mr. Parker is now 91 years old and at Cape Canaveral, Fla. with his family to witness his first launch - a Delta IV Heavy rocket with the spacecraft bearing his name. While we don't have technology that would survive the sun's surface heat of 2 to 3 million degrees Fahrenheit, the Parker probe has heat shields that will protect it from the temperatures it will face, about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

"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.

NASA scientists also hope to answer one ongoing mystery: why the sun's atmosphere is 300 times hotter than the surface itself.

Engineers are taking utmost caution with the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe, which Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA's science mission directorate, described as one of the agency's most "strategically important missions".

Earth, and all the other objects in the Solar System are constantly plowing through what is known as the solar wind - a constant stream of high-energy particles, mostly protons and electrons, hurled into space by The Sun.

The spacecraft will hit 6,90,000 kmph in the corona at closest approach.

"The coolest, hottest mission, baby, that's what it is", said Nicola Fox, the project scientist at Johns Hopkins University. These disturbances can also create complications as we attempt to send astronauts and spacecraft farther away from the Earth. It's the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone who's still alive. The probe will use Venus' gravity to slow itself down as it makes its close approaches with the sun.

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The Delta IV Heavy's launch window opens at 3:33 a.m. Saturday.

Over the course of its mission, the Parker Solar Probe will orbit the sun 24 times while being subjected to extreme heat and radiation, with temperatures expected to reach 1,377C, almost hot enough to melt steel.

The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield.

It will set the record for the fastest spacecraft in history.

NASA says it's ready for a historic trip to the sun this weekend.

If everything goes as planned, the Parker Solar Probe will reach its first close point to the Sun this November, resulting in the first batch of data in December.

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