Washington : Nasa’s Parker Solar Probe, mankind’s first mission to ‘touch’ the Sun, was successfully launched on Sunday on an unprecedented, seven-year-long journey to unlock the mysteries of the star’s fiery outer atmosphere and its effects on space weather.
Liftoff of the $1.5 billion mission took place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the US at 3.31 am EDT (1.01 pm IST).
The launch of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the spacecraft was postponed on Saturday due to a violation of a launch limit, resulting in a hold.
“The spacecraft is in good health and operating on its own. Parker Solar Probe has begun its mission to ‘touch’ the Sun,” Nasa said in a blog post, about two hours after the liftoff.
The mission is the first to be named after a living scientist — 91-year-old Eugene N Parker, who first predicted the existence of the solar wind in 1958.
The heliophysics pioneer watched the liftoff from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre. A plaque dedicating the mission to Parker was attached to the spacecraft in May. It includes a quote from the physicist, “Let’s see what lies ahead.”
It also holds a memory card containing more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to travel with the spacecraft to the Sun.
The mission’s findings will help researchers improve forecasts of space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts on orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their most severe, overwhelm power grids, Nasa said.
“This mission truly marks humanity’s first visit to a star that will have implications not just here on Earth, but how we better understand our universe,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate.
“We’ve accomplished something that decades ago, lived solely in the realm of science fiction,” Zurbuchen said.