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2018-08-11. Parker Solar Probe Launches on NASA Voyage to ‘Touch the Sun’.

posted Aug 17, 2018, 5:12 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated Aug 17, 2018, 5:16 PM ]
By Kenneth Chang, The New York Times. [https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/11/science/parker-solar-probe-launch.html] For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: Atop three columns of flame at 3:31 a.m. Eastern time, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe [http://parkersolarprobe.jhuapl.edu/] lifted toward space on Sunday. The launch was the second attempt to carry the spacecraft, which NASA touts will “touch the sun” one day, into orbit after a scrub early on Saturday. The probe — which will study the sun’s outer atmosphere as well as the stream of particles known as solar wind — was carried on top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket built and operated by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. It is one of the most powerful rockets currently available. ...The spacecraft will eventually pass within 4 million miles of the sun’s surface, close enough to skim through the star’s outer atmosphere. ...At its closest approach, the outside of the spacecraft will reach 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, or about the melting temperature of steel. But an 8-foot-wide carbon composite shield will absorb the intense heat and keep the spacecraft and its instruments cool. The foam in the shield is so fluffy — 97 percent empty space — that it adds only 160 pounds of weight. ...In total, the spacecraft will complete 24 orbits, and the mission is to end in 2025. During its later orbits, the strong pull of the sun’s gravity will accelerate the probe to 430,000 miles per hour, which will be the fastest human-made object ever....