NASA’s solar probe, the first to visit a star, now has a name: Parker Solar Probe. The spacecraft was named after astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who in the 1950s first proposed the existence of solar wind and how it affects nearby planets. NASA says this is the first spacecraft to be named after a living individual.
“The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before,” Eugene Parker said. “It’s very exciting that we’ll finally get a look.”
NASA plans to launch the spacecraft next summer, where it will piggyback off Venus into the sun’s corona. Once the spacecraft reaches its destination, it’ll be more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before, according to NASA, or as close as 3.9 million miles from the star’s surface.
At its closest approach, the probe is said to orbit the sun at approximately 430,000 mph, which NASA says is fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. in one second. In order to withstand the hazardous conditions—temperatures may reach upwards of 2,500 F—the spacecraft will be protected by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield.
Scientists are hoping to learn more about the sun and how life on Earth developed. Scientists also say the data collected will inform them about other suns throughout the universe.
“Parker Solare Probe is a spacecraft loaded with technological breakthroughs that will solve many of the largest mysteries about our star, including finding out why the sun’s corona is so much hotter than its surface,” said Nicola Fox, Parker Solar Probe Project Scientist.
If all goes according to plan, the spacecraft could launch as early as July 31, 2018.