NASA begins countdown to launch of first spacecraft to 'touch Sun' Aug 11, 2018 0 199 12345 AFPTampaNASA counted down Friday to the launch of a $1.5 billion spacecraft that aims to plunge into the Sun's sizzling atmosphere and become humanity's first mission to explore a star.The car-sized Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to blast off on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida early Saturday.The 65-minute launch window opens at 3:33 am (0733 GMT), and the weather forecast is 70 percent favorable for takeoff, NASA said.The probe's main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around Sun. Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms and disrupt Earth's power grid."The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth,"said Justin Kasper, one of the project scientists and a professor at the University of Michigan.The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches thick (11.43 centimeters).The shield should enable the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the center of our solar system, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun's surface. The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation here on Earth.Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius).Scorching, yes? But if all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay a cooler 85 F (29 C).The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission."The sun is full of mysteries,"said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab."We are ready. We have the perfect payload. We know the questions we want to answer."The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described back in 1958.Parker, now 91, recalled that at first, some people did not believe in his theory. POST A COMMENT RELATED ARTICLES Two police among four fatally shot in Canada gun violence Aug 11, 2018 0 219 UN General Assembly approves former Chile president as rights chief Aug 11, 2018 0 246 Wildfire menaces thousands in S California city Aug 11, 2018 0 562 Americans view Russia as bigger threat than Iran: Poll Reuters washington Americans view Russia as a greater threat than Iran, Reuters/Ipsos opinion polls showed, as the Trump administration this week reintroduced sanctions on Tehran and slapped new ones on Moscow. While .. Peru's new president spurns opposition proposals on referendum PUCALLPA: Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra has rejected calls to include measures proposed by opposition lawmakers in a national anti-corruption referendum that would bar them from serving consecutive terms in .. Half million Venezuelans fleeing crisis enter Ecuador Geneva: More than half a million Venezuelans have crossed into Ecuador this year, the UN said Friday, after Quito declared a state of migration emergency triggered by the crisis engulfing Venezuela. Colombia and .. Judge holds Trump adviser Stone's ex-aide in contempt WASHINGTON: An associate of longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone refused to appear before a grand jury on Friday following a subpoena from US Special Counsel Robert Mueller and was found in contempt, the Washington .. Anniversary of Charlottesville rally puts city, DC on edge Reuters Charlottesville Joan Fenton knows she will not make much money at her Charlottesville gift shop this weekend, when the downtown district will be virtually locked down for the anniversary of last year's ..