NASA's mission to 'touch the sun' starts tomorrow

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The car-sized probe, which will fly closer to the sun than any other man-made object, is set to blast off at 3:33am eastern daylight time (8:33am BST) from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 11. While the shield will be facing temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the spacecraft will be at a toasty but tolerable 85 degrees. The spacecraft will make a total of seven orbits around Venus.

Its mission is to help scientists unlock the mysteries of the sun's atmosphere and answer questions like why its corona, the outermost layer of the solar atmosphere, is hotter than its surface.

"The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth", said Justin Kasper, one of the project scientists and a professor at the University of MI.

"We are going to be in an area that is so exciting, where solar wind - we believe - will be accelerating", said NASA planetary science division director Jim Green.

"The solar corona is one of the last places in the solar system where no spacecraft has visited before", Parker Solar Probe scientist Adam Szabo said in a statement.

"As we send spacecraft and astronauts further and further from home, we must understand this space environment just as early seafarers needed to understand the ocean".

"The coolest, hottest mission, baby, that's what it is", said Nicola Fox, the project scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

This is the first NASA spacecraft to be named after someone still alive.

United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy rocket is providing the muscle. "Our first fly-by to Venus is in the fall, in September".

In all, the spacecraft will make 24 elongated laps around the Sun, closer than the orbit of Mercury, the innermost planet.

By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the unmanned probe's main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around the Sun.

The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield.

It weighs a mere 635 kg.

Additionally, the Sun is the only star we can study up-close, and any insights we glean from the Parker Solar Probe could help us better understand how other stars function.

We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star.

NASA says it's ready for a historic trip to the sun this weekend.

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