He who laughs last – launches best: Parker Solar Probe mission a testament to faith


Eugene N. Parker image courtesy University of Chicago

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — A speech during a pivotal scene in the 2016 movie Captain America Civil War, has become relevant in terms of the recent flight of the Parker Solar Probe. If you don’t think so, you might want to chat with Eugene Parker

Science can be a brutal arena. Parker found out the hard way. He presented his theory of the supersonic solar wind as well as the what came to be called the Parker solar spiral in the outer solar system. His colleagues were less than impressed and rejected his theory. Two of these esteemed professionals took it a step further, rejecting the paper he submitted to the Astrophysical Journal. They thought he was “crazy.”

Parker stood his ground. He stated that he had done the calculations and that they were correct.

Thankfully, not everyone had blinders on and noted the value of Parker’s work. The editor of the Astrophysical Journal, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, overturned their decision. It was a good thing he did so.

NASA’s Mariner 2 spacecraft, which had launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Aug. 27, 1962. It’s Atlas-Agena rocket allowed it to visit Earth’s “twin” – Venus. In terms of Parker, the spacecraft also conducted a solar wind experiment that measured the density, velocity, composition and variation of the solar wind over time. Eugene Parker was right and the scientists who scoffed at his theories – were wrong.

So what does this have to do with a summer super hero blockbuster? While presenting remarks during a funeral in the film, a character in the film, Sharon Carter, stated the following: “Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say ‘No, you move’.”  

By standing his ground, he forced those espousing scientific dogma to “move” – Parker would make history again. Sunday, Aug. 12 – he became the first living person to have a spacecraft named in his honor. 

What was known as the Solar Probe Plus Mission – was renamed the Parker Solar Probe. A line from another blockbuster, 2008’s Batman The Dark Knight, underscores why it is important to stand one’s ground – “Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” 

NASA and United Launch Alliance used a Delta IV Heavy rocket to reward Parker’s faith for not giving in to the views of the those who thought they were right. The massive rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 37 at 3:31 a.m. EDT (07:31 GMT) on its mission to “touch the face of the Sun.” 

NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbuchen, left, American solar astrophysicist, and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, Eugene Parker, center, and President and Chief Executive Officer for United Launch Alliance Tony Bruno pose for a group photo in front of the ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA's Parker Solar onboard, Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. This is the first NASA mission that has been named for a living individual. Parker Solar Probe is humanity’s first-ever mission into a part of the Sun’s atmosphere called the corona. Here it will directly explore solar processes that are key to understanding and forecasting space weather events that can impact life on Earth. Photo Credit: Bill / Ingalls




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