Early sunrise: Mission to 'touch' the sun blasts off from Florida


On the final three orbits, PSP flies to within 3.8 million miles of the sun's surface - more than seven times closer than the current record-holder for a close solar pass, the Helios 2 spacecraft, which came within 27 million miles in 1976, and about a tenth as close as Mercury, which is, on average, about 36 million miles from the Sun.

It will also be the fastest-moving man-made object in space.

Eastern on Sunday. The launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida, is NASA's first mission to explore the sun.

A Saturday launch attempt was delayed due to a technical glitch.

It was Parker who accurately theorised 60 years ago the existence of solar wind - the supersonic stream of charged particles blasting off the sun and coursing through space, sometimes wreaking havoc on electrical systems on Earth.

Over the next seven years, there will be 24 close approaches to the sun.

But then, the launch of NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 - becoming the first robotic spacecraft to make a successful planetary encounter - proved them wrong.

Scientists have been debating these questions for decades but NASA said technology has only come far enough in the past few decades to make the solar mission a reality.

According to CNET, the probe is expected to reach the sun in November.

In order to survive, the spacecraft folds its solar panels into the shadows of its protective solar shade, leaving just enough of the specially angled panels in sunlight to provide power closer to the sun.

The Solar Probe Cup, dubbed "the bravest little instrument", is a sensor that will extend beyond the heat shield to "scoop up samples" of the Sun's atmosphere, according to Professor Justin Kasper of the University of MI.

It is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone still alive. But Sunday gave way to complete success.

"We need more understanding to predict these flares and coronal mass ejections as they produce space weather which could affect our technology-based society by damaging satellites and power grids", Korreck said, adding that "We also get the handsome northern and southern lights because of these effects".

The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described in 1958.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - some 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object. "We are in for some learning over the next several years", Parker told NASA television.

The Parker Solar Probe's departure promises to set a plethora of records, including speediest spacecraft, highest velocity while leaving Earth and closest solar approach.

From Earth, it is 93 million miles to the sun, and the Parker probe will be within 4 percent of that distance at its closest.

The spacecraft will face heat and radiation "like no spacecraft before it", the agency said. To snuggle up to the sun, it will fly past Venus seven times over seven years.

"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said.