NASA preparing to try and touch the Sun

NASA is gearing up to send its Parker Solar Probe on a bold mission to touch the Sun.

Tyler MacDonald | Oct 24, 2019

NASA is preparing to launch the Parker Solar Probe on a bold mission to touch the Sun. The mission will take place no earlier than August 8, 2018, and will consist of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy carrying the car-sized spacecraft closer to the Sun than any man-made object ever has.

"We've been studying the Sun for decades, and now we're finally going to go where the action is," said Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

"The Sun's energy is always flowing past our world," said Nicky Fox, Parker Solar Probe's project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland. "And even though the solar wind is invisible, we can see it encircling the poles as the aurora, which are beautifulbut reveal the enormous amount of energy and particles that cascade into our atmosphere. We don't have a strong understanding of the mechanisms that drive that wind toward us, and that's what we're heading out to discover."

One of the breakthroughs that will allow the Parker Solar Probe to embark on this mission is its cutting-edge heat shield.

"The Thermal Protection System (the heat shield) is one of the spacecraft's mission-enabling technologies," said Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. "It allows the spacecraft to operate at about room temperature."

Why embark on such a crazy journey? To further our understanding of the universe.

"By studying our star, we can learn not only more about the Sun," said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA HQ. "We can also learn more about all the other stars throughout the galaxy, the universe and even life's beginnings."