NASA’s mission to “touch the Sun” got underway at 3:31 a.m. EST on August 12 with the launch of the Parker Solar Probe from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Within six weeks, the spacecraft, which is currently traveling at 39,500 miles per hour, will conduct the first of seven flybys of Venus and use the planet’s gravitational pull to catapult itself closer to the Sun. The process, known as gravity assist, is instrumental in the probe’s mission to reach the sun.
The mission scientists estimate that the probe will get to within 15 million miles of the Sun’s surface by early November, penetrating its corona, or atmosphere. Sometime in 2024, during the last of its 24 orbits around the Sun, the satellite will get as close as 3.83 million miles to the star’s surface and hurtle at speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour.