One small step for man, one big step for humanity… 54 years after the historic landing on the Moon and Neil Armstrong’s “walk” on Earth’s natural satellite, humanity is preparing for equally great achievements. The plan to build a permanent base on the Moon, first and then on the planet Mars, the exploration outside the solar system for possible life in other planetary systems are just some of the projects “running” the space agency. A huge project, to which scientists attach an importance similar to Armstrong’s “walk” on the surface of the Moon, is the journey of “exploration” of the Sun by the Parker Solar Probe.

It will pass “by” the Sun at a speed of 435,000 mph

Almost a year from now, on December 24, 2024, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will fly past the Sun at a staggering 195 km/s, or 435,000 mph.

No man-made object will have moved that fast or, indeed, come this close to our star – just 6.1 million kilometers, or 3.8 million miles from the Sun’s “surface.” “We’re basically almost landing on a star,” said Parker project scientist Dr Nour Raouafi.

“This will be a monumental achievement for all of humanity. This is the equivalent of the moon landing in 1969,” the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory scientist told BBC News.

How will it develop such a high speed

Parker Solar Probe’s speed will come from the enormous gravitational pull it exerts as it approaches the Sun. It will look like a flight from New York to London in less than 30 seconds.

The US space agency’s Parker Solar Probe is one of the most daring missions ever designed. It was launched in 2018 with the goal of making repeated, and ever closer, passes by the Sun.

The maneuver in late 2024 will take Parker just 4% of the Sun-Earth distance (149 million km/93 million miles).


Temperatures of 1,400 degrees Celsius

The challenge will be enormous. At perihelion, the point the spacecraft will be closest to the star, the temperature at the front of the spacecraft will likely reach 1,400C.

Parker’s strategy is to get in and out quickly, taking measurements of the solar environment with instruments deployed behind a thick heat shield. The reward, the researchers hope, will be ground-breaking knowledge of some key solar processes.

Next year will be the culmination of Parker’s mission. It won’t be able to approach the Sun beyond December, mainly because its orbit will no longer allow Venus’ swingbys to affect its course.