EARLY ON EASTER Sunday, around 4 am local time, a C-17 transport plane carrying a cargo worth $1.5 billion will take off from Joint Base Andrews near Washington, DC, and head south to Cape Canaveral. On board, a carefully wrapped and padded spacecraft headed for a rendezvous with the sun.
The Parker Solar Probe—designed and built by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory and managed by NASA—is scheduled to launch on July 31 aboard a Delta IV rocket. On its solar journey, it will reach speeds up to 450,000 miles per hour by using Venus’ gravitational pull as a slingshot. This speed will allow the probe to pass through the sun’s hazy atmosphere, or corona, at just 4 million miles above its surface—the closest a spacecraft has ever gotten to the fireball.