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article imageNASA renames Touching the Sun mission the 'Parker Solar Probe'

By Karen Graham     May 31, 2017 in Science
NASA's Solar Probe Plus mission has been given a name that is more in line with the scope of the agency's mission. The mission is being renamed in honor of astrophysicist Eugene N. Parker, who predicted the existence of the solar wind in 1958.
In February 2017, Digital Journal recapped the details of the solar probe mission that was first announced in 2008. The original launch was scheduled for 2015, but that launch date was pushed to 2018 and will use the Delta IV Heavy as the launch vehicle.
The new moniker for the solar probe mission was announced on Wednesday, May 31 by NASA. Called the Parker Solar Probe, it honors pioneering University of Chicago astrophysicist Eugene Parker. In the mid-1950s, Parker developed the theory on the supersonic solar wind and predicted the Parker spiral shape of the solar magnetic field in the outer solar system.
NASA’s first mission to go to the sun  the Parker Solar Probe  is named after Eugene Parker who fi...
NASA’s first mission to go to the sun, the Parker Solar Probe, is named after Eugene Parker who first theorized that the sun constantly sends out a flow of particles and energy called the solar wind.
This is not the first time that a space mission has been named after an important person. NASA has named at least 20 missions after people, and perhaps the most well-known is the Hubble Space Telescope, named after the American astronomer Edwin Hubble.
NASA officials say that 89-year-old Parker is the first researcher to be celebrated in this manner while still alive, and indeed, it is a great honor. "I'm certainly greatly honored to be associated with such a heroic scientific space mission," Parker said during a press conference at the University of Chicago today, reports
Prof. Eugene Parker from University of Chicago in 2007.
Prof. Eugene Parker from University of Chicago in 2007.
According to NASA's launch window information, the car-sized spacecraft is scheduled to soar into solar orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 31, 2018. The mission will attempt to plunge the Parker Solar Probe into the Sun's corona - That's the hazy brightness you can see around the edge of the sun during a total solar eclipse.
"We describe this as a mission of extremes," said Dr. Nicola Fox, mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Over the course of seven years, the Parker Solar Probe will perform 24 flybys of our star, getting closer than any spacecraft in human history.
Imagine this, the probe will be whizzing at a speed of more than 720,000 kilometers (447,387 miles) per hour, and will eventually come within less than 6.2 million kilometers (3.9 million miles) of the Sun's surface. This distance and speed will put the probe well inside the orbit of Mercury.
European Space Agency
And this is really going to be a mission with extreme "extremes." The 10-foot-long (3 meters) Parker Solar Probe is expected to experience temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) and solar radiation intensities 475 times greater than we're used to on Earth.
For this reason, there is the need for protection of the spacecraft itself and the sensitive instruments it will carry. To that end, NASA scientists have designed a 4.5-inch-thick (11.4 centimeters) carbon-composite shield, able to hopefully withstand the temperatures outside the spacecraft.
Mission controllers back on Earth will also retract the Parker Solar Probe's solar arrays as it approaches the sun and then extend them as the spacecraft retreats, to protect the arrays from temperature fluctuations. And the little spacecraft will be very busy, with a host of mission goals, including measuring the sun's electric and magnetic fields, photographing solar structure and studying the solar wind.
The Delta IV is a rocket operated by United Launch Alliance. The one that ill be used for the Solar ...
The Delta IV is a rocket operated by United Launch Alliance. The one that ill be used for the Solar Probe Plus mission will be a Delta IV Heavy.
It is important that we learn all we can from the Parker Solar Probe mission. Researchers at APL, which manages the mission for NASA, wrote in an online description that "without advance warning, a huge solar event could cause $2 trillion in damage in the U.S. alone, and the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. could be without power for a year."
"In order to unlock the mysteries of the corona, but also to protect a society that is increasingly dependent on technology from the threats of space weather, we will send [the Parker Solar Probe] to touch the sun," they added.
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