'Touch the sun': Nasa spacecraft hurtles towards our star

The spacecraft will make its first close approach in early November, when it will travel 15 million miles from the Sun - inside the Sun's corona (aka the solar atmosphere).

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"Of the mighty Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA's Parker Solar Probe, a daring mission to shed light on the mysteries of our closest star, the Sun", said the narrator on NASA TV.

A Saturday morning launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble.

The rocket sets a number of records.

The unmanned spacecraft's mission is to get closer than any human-made object ever to the center of our solar system.

A space probe that will "touch the sun" and reach record-breaking speeds has successfully blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The Parker Solar Probe during final pre-launch processing, its white heat shield visible at the top.

"All I can say is, 'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next several years", said Dr Parker, who proposed the existence of solar wind - a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun - 60 years ago. The corona holds the answers to many of scientists' outstanding questions about the Sun's activity and processes.

The European Space Agency is also building a similar solar probe.

Over the next seven years, Parker will fly directly through the Sun's roasting hot outer atmosphere in a bid to unlock some of the solar system's greatest secrets.

It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn't about to let it take off without him.

The mission, which hopes to uncover the Sun's mysteries, will accumulate a gamut of data about its structure and magnetic and electric fields, as well as the energetic particles cruising near and away from Earth's star.

Protected by a revolutionary new heat shield, the spacecraft will fly past Venus in October. "Even I still go, really?"

Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral, and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person. We've studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury.

"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done unbelievable things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist, told CNN.

NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community".

NASA on Sunday launched a $1.5 billion spacecraft toward the Sun on a historic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of unsafe solar storms.

Nicky Fox, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab - who were instrumental in the building of the spacecraft - said: "We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star".

"I'll bet you 10 bucks it works", Parker said.

  • Joey Payne