The universe is full of astounding astral phenomena, and humanity's itch to explore them is strong. Humans will never settle for merely skirting the surface of the unknown - especially when the unknown probably sustains the entirety of planet Earth. NASA's planned 2018 mission to the Sun is a daring journey into the atmosphere of the hottest, most ferocious burning ball of gas in the entire solar system.
Humanity's first mission to "touch the Sun" will be carried out aboard the Parker Solar Probe, a sun spacecraft about the size of a small car that has been made to absorb the Sun's heat for energy while sustaining blazing hot temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the process, the Parker Solar Probe will be harvesting and sending valuable information about the Sun's solar wind and corona temperatures back to Earth's home base, potentially saving the planet from massive amounts of damage as the result of an unforeseen solar event. For the first time in history, NASA will be studying the sun up close enough to analyze its outer atmosphere and snap shots of what the depths of its corona - giving a bit more insight on what the universe holds.
The Probe Will Lap The Sun 24 Times In Seven Years, Returning In 2025
Shooting off into space early summer of 2018, the Parker Solar Probe has a long, seven-year mission ahead of it. During its time adrift in the solar system, the probe will orbit the sun a grand total of 24 times before its mission concludes in 2025.
Its orbit will begin wide, but the probe will gradually nudge its way through the Sun's corona, bringing it closer to its surface with each pass. Each rotation around the massive ball of energy and heat will take about 88 days to complete - about the same amount of time it takes Mercury to orbit the sun.
It Will Be Flying Within 3.9 Million Miles Of The Sun, Where It Will Experience Temperatures Up To 2,500 Degrees
During the Parker Solar Probe's orbits, it'll be skirting the sun's surface from a mere hop away, about 3.9 million miles. This brings the brave little probe well inside the orbit of Mercury, the orbit of which is 29 million miles from the sun at its closest distance, and 43 million miles at its furthest. Bringing itself this close to the Sun means that the probe will be experiencing extreme temperatures - up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The solar radiation that will be pounding on the probe at that distance will be 475 times greater than anything experienced on Earth.
The Parker Solar Probe Will Be The Fastest Spacecraft To Date
Hurling around the Sun at a furious speed of 430,000 miles per hour, the Parker Solar Probe will be the fastest spacecraft made to date. This super speed will crown the probe not only as the fastest spacecraft in existence, but the fastest manmade object ever created.
125 miles-per-second is an insane speed to be traveling, and will be taking the probe on an accelerated mission across Mercury's orbit and the Sun's outer flares. To give a realistic perspective to how fast this small sun-traveler is, it could make the trip from Philadelphia to Washington, DC once per second.
The Solar Probe Mission Costs 1.5 Billion Dollars
Building a solar probe that can literally withstand the temperature of the Sun is no cheap feat. The Parker Solar Probe is a project that is costing NASA an estimated total of $1.5 billion. Although the price might seem steep, it's a small fee to pay for data collection that can potentially save the planet from trillions of dollars of damage. The more money put into research and development, the more precise and valuable the data becomes.
Space Fans Can "Ride Shotgun" On The Solar Journey
In order to raise awareness for the unmanned mission, NASA kicked off the Summer 2018 Hot Ticket, which gives space enthusiasts a stake in the Parker Probe's journey, albeit a very small one. By merely submitting names to the official Parker Solar Probe site before the deadline, anybody can have their name stored on a memory card aboard the spacecraft. So if you sign up in time, your name can go on a long, strange quest to the Sun.
It Comes Equipped With A Beastly Heat Shield
If you're going to get super close to the Sun, it goes without saying that you'll need to come prepared with some serious sunblock. The Parker Solar Probe is well equipped for a close encounter with a blazing bright, hot, ball of fuel.
NASA has carefully crafted a thick, powerful heat shield that will block the 2,500 degree Fahrenheit temperatures and allow for the instruments inside of the probe to operate at room temperature. It is comprised of a thick wall of carbon composite, guarding the galactic vehicle with its 7.5 foot wide and 4.5 inch-thick shield.