NASA is planning a mission to the sun, sponsored by Nelly.
I’m hearing it’s not actually sponsored by Nelly, but this mission—which NASA will announce on Wednesday—is exciting nonetheless. The launch of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft will take place next summer. But if your first thought is seeing a team of happy astronauts disintegrate in space and scream in horror because they didn’t think the sun would be this hot, stop being ridiculous. There won’t be people on this ship.
Still, the spaceship has to withstand a lot of heat. Time notes that “the nearest any spacecraft has gotten to the solar inferno was 27 million miles.” (Because it’s hot.) However, it helps that the trajectory is easier to plot than, for example, a trip to Pluto; the sun is 93 million miles from Earth. NASA is shooting to get as close as 3.8 million miles from the sun and get snapshots of the steaming hot corona, which “will mark the first time a human-built machine has ever technically touched a star.”
That contact will not just be a one-time thing. The spacecraft will go into an independent orbit of the sun in November of 2018, and will make up to 24 close approaches through June of 2025. Each orbit will take about 88 days to complete — the same as Mercury’s orbit of the sun — and at its peak speeds, the ship will be moving at 450,000 mph (724,000 k/h), or fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. in one second.
This mission will somewhat solve the main issue I have with the sun, which is that it’s right there but we can’t touch it.
Important questions will be answered, like, will the sun be wearing sunglasses when we get there?
There are a lot of important reasons to fly a mission so close to the sun, beyond at last planting NASA’s flag there — not that you could actually plant a flag on a body that, effectively, has no surface. For starters, scientists may at last get some answers as to why the million-degree coronasphere is up to 100 times hotter than the 10,000° F (5,500° C) surface, a mystery that has long puzzled them.
The cost for this Icarus mission is $1.5 billion and worth it.