NASA's First Ever Parker Solar Probe Mission to Touch The Sun Launches in Second Attempt

The record-breaking craft is also the fastest man-made object ever and has been built to withstand the sun's exorbitant heat and radiation.
Loukia Papadopoulos

In a second attempt today, NASA finally launched the first ever mission to the Sun at 3:31 am ET with its Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, the fastest man-made object ever. The historic mission will provide key research regarding long-standing important solar mysteries.

A delayed but at last successful launch

NASA's unique record-breaking spacecraft took off on the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The initially scheduled launch was for Saturday 3:33 a.m. ET but was delayed several times and eventually rescheduled to Sunday.

As usual, the event was live-streamed on NASA Television and the agency’s website and was updated regularly on Twitter. The media reported on every aspect of this momentous mission from its name, the first ever after a live person solar physicist Dr. Eugene Parker, to the probe's impressive shield.

Parker Solar Probe now begins its journey to the Sun’s atmosphere, also called the corona, to study an area previously only glimpsed through eclipses. The spacecraft will go closer to the Sun than any other spaceship in history.

This means Parker Solar Probe will face exorbitant heat and radiation, absorbing temperatures as high as 2,500° F (1,400° C). Surprisingly the incredibly heat-resistant ship is pretty light, weighing only 1,400 pounds.


The sturdy craft starts its first trip aboard one of the world’s most powerful rockets, the Delta IV Heavy with an added third stage. Once in space, the craft only needs to drop 53,000 miles per hour of sideways motion to skim the sun's atmosphere.

However, this feat is actually a lot more complex than it seems. Over its seven-year mission, Parker Solar Probe will need to undertake seven Venus gravity assists to draw its orbit closer to the Sun for a final record approach of 3.83 million miles from the star's visible surface.

Once there, the craft will use its incredible cutting-edge heat shield to protect itself as well as its autonomous cooling system. Finally, breaking yet another record, Parker Solar Probe will reach 430,000 miles per hour on its final orbits, bolstered by the Sun's extreme gravity to become the fastest-ever human-made object.

Significant contributions to science

However, in the end, Parker Solar Probe's most significant achievement will be its contribution to science. The research mission will return key information about the Sun including data on its corona, solar winds, and magnetic fields.

It will also observe the birth of the very solar wind that Dr. Parker predicted. "We’ve been examining the solar wind for over 50 years. But the wind is processed by the time it reaches Earth,"said Dr. Adam Szabo, the Parker mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

"By studying it much closer to the Sun, the Parker Probe will be able to tell us such things as what part of the Sun is providing the energy source for the wind’s particles and how they can accelerate to such incredibly high speeds," he concluded.