NASA postpones launch of Parker Solar Probe

NASA's Parker Solar Probe Rolls Out to Launchpad for Sun Touching Mission

A last-minute technical problem yesterday has delayed NASA's unprecedented flight to the sun.

Saturday's launch countdown was halted with one minute, 55 seconds remaining, keeping the Delta IV rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the Parker Solar Probe.

NASA says a red pressure alarm for the gaseous helium system went off, prompting the launch controller to order, "Hold, hold, hold".

Once flying, the Parker probe will venture closer to our star than any other spacecraft.

The launch was first pushed to 3:53 a.m.

The U.S. got a glimpse of the sun's glowing, spiky crown, or corona, during last August's coast-to-coast total solar eclipse.

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NASA hopes the probe will help determine which parts of the sun are providing the energy source for solar winds and solar particles, and how they accelerate to such high speeds.

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick.

But it can withstand 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) as well as extreme radiation, thanks to its high-tech carbon.

In the lead-up to the launch, NASA collected 1.1 million names from members of the public who wanted to symbolically orbit the sun at close range. As one scientist notes, this is a shield Captain America would envy.

When it runs out of fuel, it will stay in the sun's orbit in perpetuity.

But getting so close to the Sun requires slowing down - for which Parker will use the gravity of our neighbor planet, Venus.

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The spacecraft is expected to make its closest approach to the sun in the year 2024, as it flies 3.9 million miles above the solar surface. By way of comparison, the average distance from the Sun for Earth is 93 million miles (150 million km). Its flightpath will use the gravitational pull of Venus as a slingshot to propel it at speeds of 430,000 miles per hour towards the sun's corona.

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 corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system.

The probe is set to use seven Venus flybys over almost seven years to gradually reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments created to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles.

But then, the launch of NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 - becoming the first robotic spacecraft to make a successful planetary encounter - proved them wrong.

"We will fly by Venus seven times throughout the mission". "At my age, it gets fatiguing". In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Parker noted from a publicity standpoint, "it absolutely wipes out everything else" in his career. "But of course, I enjoy it".

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