NASA has renamed its Solar Probe Plus mission to The Parker Solar Probe, in honour of astrophysicist Eugene Parker. The observations by the Parker Solar Probe is closely aligned with the research by Eugene Parker, which is why the mission is named after him. Parker proposed the theory of solar wind, which was later confirmed through direct observations, and correctly predicted the shape of the magnetic field of the Sun. This is the first time that a NASA mission has been named after a living person.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington says, "This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual. It’s a testament to the importance of his body of work, founding a new field of science that also inspired my own research and many important science questions that NASA continues to study and further understand every day. I’m very excited to be personally involved honoring a great man and his unprecedented legacy."
The Parker Solar Probe is the first mission that humans are sending directly to a star. The probe will enter the atmosphere of the Sun, the corona, which is made up of plasma and extends millions of kilometers into space. The atmosphere is so large that the Earth is actually within the atmosphere of the Sun. The solar weather conditions affects life on Earth, which is why the probe is necessary. The Parker Solar Probe will provide humans with the critical information necessary to anticipate major solar weather events.
Eugene Parker says, "The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before. It’s very exciting that we’ll finally get a look. One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what’s going on in the solar wind. I’m sure that there will be some surprises. There always are."
The spacecraft is expected to fly seven times closer than any previous spacecraft to the surface of the Sun. The temperature on the surface of the Sun is about 5,000 degrees Celsius, but the corona is surprisingly three hundred times hotter at places. The probe will be exposed to temperatures of about 5,778 degrees Celsius, and will be protected by a 4.5 inch thick carbon-composite shield. The probe is expected to make observations of the Sun while orbiting it at almost 692,000 kilometers per hour. On Earth, that is the equivalent of travelling from New York to Tokyo in less than a minute.
The Parker Solar Probe is on schedule to be launched during a twenty-day window that opens on 31 July, 2018. The Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA's Living With a Star program, that explores the consequences the Sun has of human life on Earth. Other missions that are part of the program include the Van Allen Probes, which recently discovered a man made radiation shield around the Earth and the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which spotted six consecutive M class solar flares in April. A Solar orbiter is planned for 2019.