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NASA launches the Parker Solar Probe for an unprecedented mission to the sun

NASA's Solar Probe Plus mission will set off to explore the sun's atmosphere CREDIT: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. –  NASA has launched a spacecraft to the sun that will fly closer to our star than anything ever sent before.

The Parker Solar Probe rocketed away from Cape Canaveral, Florida, early Sunday. It’s on an unprecedented quest that will take it straight through the wispy edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, just 3.8 million (6 million kilometers) from the sun’s surface.

Protected by a revolutionary new heat shield, the spacecraft will fly past Venus in October. That will set up the first solar encounter in November. Altogether, it will make 24 close approaches over the next seven years.

Thousands of spectators jammed the launch site, including 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker for whom the spacecraft is named. He proposed the existence of the solar wind 60 years ago.

Saturday Delay

A last-minute technical problem delayed NASA’s unprecedented flight to the sun.

Saturday’s launch countdown was halted with just one-minute, 55 seconds remaining, keeping the Delta IV (four) rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the Parker Solar Probe. This followed earlier trouble in the countdown.