A NASA spaceship on a mission to the Sun has taken off – starting its 89 million mile mission to the heart of the Solar System.
NASA rocket Delta IV launched the Parker Solar Probe out into space to begin its historic journey to the sun.
The car-sized spacecraft will speed through space at 430,000mph – coming within four million miles of the Earth’s nearest star by 2024.
As the Parker Solar Probe probe orbits the sun, it will experience extreme radiation and temperatures as high as 1,377C – close to the melting point of steel.
To handle the heat it has been covered with a special 4.5-inch thick carbon-composite shield capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1,650C.
NASA hopes the breakthrough journey will reveal why the Sun’s outer layer – the corona – is hotter than the surface.
Scientists at the space agency were due to launch the probe yesterday – but it was called off due to “gaseous helium red pressure alarm”.
Thousands had gathered to watch the historic launch only for it to be cancelled with just one minute and 55 seconds to go.
The spacecraft will analyse so-called “space weather”, which is large eruptions of radiation from the Sun which batter Earth.
It is hoped the operation will reveal how energy and particles ride solar winds that eventually enter our atmosphere.
Dr Eugene Parker was on hand to watch the launch live – the man after whom the spacecraft is named.
Mr Parker predicted the existence of solar wind 60 years ago and now, at the age of 91, he was keen to see the probe launched.
He said: “Nothing compares to watching a rocket launch live.”
This week, US President Donald Trump set up the Space Force – which will become the “sixth branch” of the US military to take on China and Russia.
A NASA spokesman said: “At closest approach, our Parker
Solar Probe spacecraft will be hurtling around the sun at approximately 430,000 miles per hour.
“That’s fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington DC in one second.”
NASA project scientist Dr Nicky Fox said: “The Parker Solar Probe is going seven times closer than anything has ever been before.
“I realise that doesn’t sound very close but if you put the Earth and the Sun one metre apart, Parker Solar Probe would be 4cm from the Sun.
“The mission has been around since 1958 – it’s only now that technology has finally allowed our dreams to come true.”