Nasa counts down to launch of first spacecraft to 'touch Sun'

Artist's illustration of the Parker Solar Probe at the sun

Artist's illustration of the Parker Solar Probe at the

And as it draws near, the spacecraft will be accelerated by our star's intense gravity to a stupendous speed - estimated to be 430,000 miles per hour.That will make the probe the fastest human-made object, eclipsing the twin Helios probes that zoomed along at 157,000 miles per hour on their sun-circling trajectories.

Over the course of about seven years, the spacecraft will orbit the sun about 24 times, eventually flying just 3.8 million miles above the star's surface at its closest point.

The spacecraft will fly through the sun's corona multiple times to answer several questions, like why it is millions of degrees hotter than the surface of the sun itself.

"It can impact our technology, it disrupts our communications, it can knock out satellites, it creates a hazardous environment for astronauts, and it also can even impact our power grids here on Earth", NASA heliophysicist Alex Young said.

At 3:33 a.m. EDT, the Parker Solar Probe will launch from Space Launch Complex 37 on Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Parker will get almost seven times closer to the sun than previous spacecraft. Notably, the Parker Solar Probe is also the first NASA spacecraft to be named after a living person.

United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy rocket is providing the muscle.

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That shield should absorb the extreme heat of the sun, heating up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and keeping the spacecraft and its sensitive instruments at 85 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA.

The spacecraft holds photos of Parker as well as a copy of his 1958 research paper on what he termed solar wind. So really the only way we can now do it is to do this daring mission to plunge into the corona.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation here on Earth.

"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.

"We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", project scientist Nicky Fox said in a statement.

"And last but not least, we have a white light imager that is taking images of the atmosphere right in front of the Sun".

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