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CAPE CANAVERAL (CBSMiami) — All systems are go as NASA prepares to launch a spacecraft that will travel closer to the Sun than ever before.

The Parker Solar Probe, seen here in an artist’s impression, will make repeated passes through the sun’s corona, or atmosphere, to learn more about what generates its extreme temperatures, the solar wind and the titanic storms that can blast Earth with high-energy radiation. (Courtesy: NASA)

“We’ve looked at it. We’ve studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury. But we have to go there,” said Parker Solar Probe Project scientist Nicola Fox.

NASA hopes to go there with the Parker Solar Probe, a $1.5 billion dollar spacecraft decades in the making.

The probe is designed to fly through the sun’s corona, the outermost part of its atmosphere. Closer than ever, but still 3.8 million miles from the star’s surface.

To withstand 25-hundred degree heat, scientists developed a four-inch carbon shield to keep the interior near room temperature.

The spacecraft is about the size of a small car and will start its journey riding on one of the largest rockets in the world.

When the probe arrives in three months, NASA hopes to learn about solar winds and space weather and gain insight into other stars throughout the universe.

Our yellow dwarf star is, in many ways, a mystery. The outreaching corona is hundreds of times hotter than the sun’s actual surface, confounding scientists. In addition, physicists don’t know what’s driving the solar wind, the supersonic stream of charged particles constantly blasting away from the sun. By being right in the thick of it, Parker should provide some answers, shedding light not only on our star but the billions of others out there.

“In a lot of ways, it’s an ending, the spacecraft is going into space. But it’s really a beginning, because now we’re trying to take the science and learn from the data that will change the view of our Sun forever,” explained Parker Solar Probe Engineer Betsy Congdon.

Traveling at 430-thousand miles per hour, the Parker Solar Probe will orbit the sun 24 times over the next seven years.

Launch time at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center is 3:33 a.m. Saturday morning, before the sun rises.

This will be NASA’s first mission dedicated to a living person. 91-year-old Dr. Eugene Parker developed the leading theory on solar winds in the 1950s.


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