To Touch the Sun: NASA’s Unique Mission

NASA has had its fair share of “impossible” missions before, sending a man to the Moon, a probe to Mars, and heck, the two Voyagers are out of our solar system. However, this mission may be the impossible one.

The Parker Solar Probe before its launch; photo from socialunderground.com
The Parker Solar Probe at the APL in Maryland; photo from socialunderground.com

The Parker Solar Probe is set to launch next year as the first probe to make a visit to our nearest star and source of life as we know.  “The probe will face very brutal heat and radiation conditions as it will provide us with a close observation of our sun and ultimately a star,” NASA said in a statement. The probe recently was on display at John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland but before long, the spacecraft will be making its trip back to Florida where it will be launched towards its final destination: the sun.

An artist's rendering of the Parker Solar Probe near the sun; photo from www.iradehaber.com
An artist’s rendering of the Parker Solar Probe near the sun; photo from www.iradehaber.com

The $1.6 billion mission will also aim to improve space weather forecasts that can impact life on Earth and astronauts in space. Nicola Fox, a project scientist for APL stated, “Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we have puzzled over for more than six decades.”

This mission was first considered back in 1958, before the Apollo missions and Mars Rovers, making it one of NASA’s oldest projects on the books. The main reason why it took so long before the mission was because of the sun’s intense heat.  The probe will be 3.9 million miles away from the sun’s surface but will be well within the orbit of Mercury. Even though, the probe won’t “touch the sun,” it will face temperatures on the upwards of 2,500 degrees F.  The probe will launch between the dates of July 31, 2018 and Aug. 19, 2018. The spacecraft will orbit around the sun a total of 24 times in a seven-year period with speeds of 500,000 miles. With speeds like that, you could travel up to California and back in one minute.