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NASA’s historic mission to ‘Touch the Sun’ will begin on Saturday

Published Aug 7th, 2018 12:53PM EDT
parker solar probe
Image: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

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It’s been a long time coming, but NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is finally just days away from its historic launch towards the star that hosts planet Earth, and every living thing mankind knows of. It’s sure to be a mission of many ‘firsts’ and scientists are hoping to learn more about the star than ever before.

At the moment, the launch window is scheduled to open at exactly 3:33 a.m. EDT. The launch will take place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and you’ll be able to watch it all go down live.

The mission will see the Parker Solar Probe get within roughly 3.9 million miles of the Sun. That sounds like a long ways away, but it’s actually incredibly close by Solar System standards. Consider how you feel on a clear summer day when the Sun is beaming down on you. That heat you feel as the light hits your skin is being generated over 90 million miles away. At less than four million miles, the temperatures are hot enough to melt steel.

NASA has obviously thought about all of this for a long time, and that’s why the probe is equipped with a thick heat shield that will always be pointed in the direction of the star. Tiny sensors will ensure that the probe is always in the correct orientation, because if the light were to strike the of the spacecraft it would put a quick stop to the entire mission. The probe will study the Sun for nearly seven years.

Because of the intricacies of launching a solar probe, NASA has a huge launch window for the mission, stretching from late July through late August. Conditions appear to be prime for a launch on Saturday, so NASA will try to make it happen sooner rather than later. This particular launch attempt will take place within a 65-minute window, and if anything doesn’t look right NASA will push it to a later date.

If you want to watch the probe head skyward live you can do so via NASA’s YouTube channel, which is embedded above. The event will kick off shortly before the launch window opens and NASA will be providing commentary about the mission and the spacecraft.

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