Last-minute technical problem delays NASA's flight to sun

The spacecraft will use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to gradually shrink its orbit around the sun. Pic John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab

NASA's Parker Solar Probe - first mission to "touch" the Sun in the history of mankind - has been shifted to its launch pad.

NASA has postponed until Sunday the launch of its $1.5 billion unmanned Parker Solar Probe, to allow engineers more time to investigate a red flag that was raised in the last moment before liftoff.

"It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind", Parker said earlier this week.

The mission will carry out its observation through the Corona and how its affect the near-Earth space and change our understanding of the biggest star completely.

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"The Parker Solar Probe's observations will help us answer questions like: Why is the corona a couple million degrees hotter than the sun?" Why in this region does the solar atmosphere suddenly get so energized that it escapes from the hold of the sun and bathes all of the planets?

"All I can say is, 'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next several years", said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.

It will actually skim by at a distance of 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) above the Sun's surface.

The Parker probe's final three orbits - in 2024 and 2025 - will be the closest.

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NASA says the best time to see the shower is between 2 a.m. and dawn local time-but the shower will be visible as early as 9 p.m. Skies should be clearing and by the time we hit that peak viewing time after 1 AM it should be partly cloudy to clear.

"The primary science goals for the mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles", explained NASA.

The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer be able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the Sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield. "We're still three times closer than anything has been before".

The heat shield is made of a 4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fibre face sheets.

If everything goes according to plan, temperatures inside the spacecraft should be a mere 85 degrees Fahrenheit. On the probe Parker spent about $ 1.5 billion.

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"If you think about the amount of particles that actually are striking the heat shield and depositing that heat in, the whole thing gets heated up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit". But Earth's star has secrets that scientists have been trying to figure out for decades!

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