NASA's Parker Solar Probe embarks on a mission to 'touch' the sun

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Scientists hope that the Parker mission will help solve the problem of coronal heating and the mechanism behind the acceleration of the solar wind. Watch live in the player above.

"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". That's a scant 4 percent of the 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) between Earth and the sun.

It's important to learn as much as possible about the sun and how it produces space weather because Earth is inside the atmosphere of the sun. It will fly by our solar system's hottest planet seven times over seven years, using the gravity of Venus to shrink its own oval orbit and draw increasingly closer to the sun. It is equipped with a Northrup Grumman solid-fuel upper stage that will act to drop the Parker probe out of Earth's 18-mile-per-second orbit around the sun, allowing it to fall inward for the first of seven gravity assist flybys of Venus over a planned seven-year mission. In space terms, that's practically shaking hands. The 8-foot (2.4-meter) shield will face the sun during the close solar encounters, shading the science instruments in the back and keeping them humming at a cool 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).

The Parker Solar Probe will ride atop one of the most powerful space rockets we have today, the Delta 4 Heavy. The spacecraft will make a total of seven orbits around Venus. On Saturday, August 11, NASA will launch its Parker Solar Probe from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth.

The card was mounted on a plaque with a dedication and an appointment of the homonym of the mission, the heliophysicist Eugene Parker, first to theorize about the existence of the solar wind. These explosions create space weather events that can pummel Earth with high energy particles, endangering astronauts, interfering with Global Positioning System and communications satellites and, at their worst, disrupting our power grid. Among other things, the spacecraft will carry a microchip with more than a million names on it.

"What this mission is going to be able do is pin down exactly what the structure close to the sun is - the overall structure". After launch, the spacecraft will orbit directly through the solar atmosphere - the corona - closer to the surface than any human-made object has ever gone.

Eight long years of hard work by countless engineers and scientists is finally paying off.

Parker got to inspect the spacecraft last fall. "It gives me the sense of excitement of an explorer".