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Scientists are aiming to use the probe to collect data about the inner workings of the highly magnetised corona, to better understand the causes of solar wind.

On the final three orbits, PSP flies to within 3.8 million miles of the sun's surface - more than seven times closer than the current record-holder for a close solar pass, the Helios 2 spacecraft, which came within 27 million miles in 1976, and about a tenth as close as Mercury, which is, on average, about 36 million miles from the Sun.

Once there, the spacecraft will become the fastest one ever, orbiting the Sun at a whopping 430-thousand miles an hour.

"At this point, spacecraft is up and happy", said a spokesman with United Launch Alliance, the company that operates the rocket.

The Parker probe is named after USA astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who developed a pioneering theory on supersonic solar wind in 1958. "Congratulations to our team and mission partners, we are proud to launch this exceptional spacecraft that will provide invaluable scientific information benefiting all of humankind".

This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after a living person.

"Fly baby girl, fly!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University said in a tweet right before liftoff.

A last-minute technical problem delayed the rocket's planned Saturday launch, with the countdown halted with just one minute, 55 seconds remaining. "It took a while for the Delta IV Heavy to clear the pad", Fox said, "but I was prepared for that, so I didn't panic".

It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.

This image made available by NASA shows an artist's rendering of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun.

But Sunday's bid "went off like clockwork", said NASA launch manager Omar Baez.

Over the next few weeks, Parker Solar Probe will run through a series of tests to ensure that its four instrument suites are working properly. That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft. Perhaps most important for us humans, the science undertaken with the help of the Parker Solar Probe will likely improve our ability to forecast space weather - including solar flares that can disrupt signals from satellites and, in extreme cases, can even blow out transformers on our terrestrial power grids.

NASA hopes the probe will help determine which parts of the sun are providing the energy source for solar winds and solar particles, and how they accelerate to such high speeds. She urged it to "go touch the sun!"

"Chandra, as he was popularly known, is another astrophysicist with his name tagged to a space mission, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory", Nandi said. With a communication lag time of 16 minutes, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun.

"We've had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams", Fox said. His 1958 paper was initially ridiculed but has come to be central to our understanding of the solar system and beyond.


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