NASA will launch its historic mission to touch the sun at 3:33 a.m. EDT on Saturday. The Parker Solar Probe will journey to the sun’s atmosphere and is programmed to get closer to the center of our solar system than any spacecraft ever has.
The launch will take place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
It is 60 years in the making. “We’ll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before—within the corona of a star,” project scientist Nicky Fox at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab said in a statement. “With each orbit, we’ll be seeing new regions of the Sun’s atmosphere and learning things about stellar mechanics that we’ve wanted to explore for decades.”
The launch will be livestreamed on NASA’s website, embedded below:
NASA has a 65-minute launch window for the Parker Solar Probe, which begins at 3:33 a.m. The spacecraft is attached to one of the most powerful rockets on earth, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy. It will shoot towards the sun with 55 times more energy than is used for missions to Mars.
The Parker Solar Probe will move up to 430,000 miles per hour, which equates to traveling from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in just one second.
“NASA was planning to send a mission to the solar corona for decades, however, we did not have the technology that could protect a spacecraft and its instruments from the heat,” stated Adam Szabo, the spacecraft’s mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Recent advances in materials science gave us the material to fashion a heat shield in front of the spacecraft not only to withstand the extreme heat of the Sun, but to remain cool on the backside.”
The probe will follow a path that allows scientists to observe the solar wind acceleration. “The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before,” Parker stated last year. “It’s very exciting that we’ll finally get a look. One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what’s going on in the solar wind. I’m sure that there will be some surprises. There always are.”
Besides the actual launch, NASA is holding a prelaunch broadcast at 6:30 p.m., as well as a sunset show from its Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 7:30 p.m.
The spacecraft is named after solar physicist Dr. Eugene Parker, who was the first to predict the existence of solar wind in 1958.
Update: the launch was ultimately delayed just two minutes before the window closed.