NASA's flight to sun delayed by last-minute technical issues

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

Image The probe's orbits will gradually take it nearer to the sun. Pic NASA

The probe will make at least 24 passes around the sun, with gravity assists from Venus for seven of them, and continue going after that as long as it has propellant.

Nestled atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy - one of the world's most powerful rockets - with a third stage added, Parker Solar Probe will blast off toward the Sun with a whopping 55 times more energy than is required to reach Mars.

"The team received a gaseous helium reg pressure alarm that kicked them out", said Mic Woltman with NASA's Launch Services Program.

Thousands of people had gathered at Cape Canaveral to watch the take-off, which was initially due to take place at 4.38am local time.

Parker is now 91 years old and at Cape Canaveral with his family to witness his first launch - a Delta IV Heavy rocket with the spacecraft bearing his name.

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of its surface during a seven-year mission.

The probe is equipped with a 4 1/2-inch thick carbon-carbon heat shield created to withstand temperatures of about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The current close-to-the-sun champ, NASA's former Helios 2, got within 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) in 1976.

"Today, this is finally possible with cutting-edge thermal engineering advances that can protect the mission on its risky journey".

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Eugene Parker predicted the existence of solar wind 60 years ago. During its closest solar approaches, the spacecraft will hurtle through the corona at 430,000 miles per hour (690 kph), setting a speed record.

"And it needs to be, because it takes an enormous amount of energy to get to our final orbit around the Sun", Driesman added.

Understanding more about solar activity could help scientists forecast the large eruptions from the sun that pose a threat to satellite and communications systems.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.

Image: An illustration of the probe leaving Earth.

"The sun is full of mysteries", said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

Manned missions, such as the Apollo moon landings, were run from the Christopher C Kraft Mission Control Centre in Houston, from where it earned its famous radio call sign.

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