“NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Will ‘Shake’ Hands with Sun, Thanks to Small Push from Venus”
by Anna Kusmer
PBS NewsHour, July 20, 2018
I hope this email finds you well. I have a pitch that I think would be great for PBS. It is about the upcoming NASA mission to send a probe closer to the sun than we’ve ever been before. I want to focus the story on the navigation side: how do we fly just close enough? Let me know what you think!
Navigating a trip to shake hands with the sun with a little push from Venus
In the famous Greek myth, Icarus tries to escape from the island of Crete with a pair of wings made of wax and feathers. The wings were masterfully crafted. The buckles were firm, and the wax was set. So then why did Icarus’ wings fail him, causing him to plunge to his death? He flew too high, and the wax melted. Thus was born the adage: don’t fly too close to the sun.
But what if the sun is your destination? Early this August, NASA plans to deploy the Parker Solar Probe. The goal is to fly closer to the sun than any other space exploration project has flown in the past –7 times closer. This close proximity will allow the scientists gather important data to better understand the origins of solar wind – that’s the stuff that comes off the sun and envelops the earth, creating magnetic fields.To do this, the NASA team needs expert navigation. They have to predict orbital movement and the placement of planets years into the future to strike the perfect balance between flying close enough that they can collect the data they need but no closer lest they burn up.
When it comes to expert navigation, look no further than Yanping Guo, the mission design and navigation manager for the Parker Solar Probe. Guo and her team use super computers and complex mathematical models to plan the Parker Probe’s 24 orbits around the sun -a journey of 7 years.
As it circles the sun, the size of the probe’s orbit will gradually shrink to get within 4 million miles of the sun’s surface. In space terms, that’s essentially shaking hands. The outside temperature will be over 2,500 degrees F, but thanks to state-of-the-art cooling systems, the instrumentation in the probe will be kept around room temperature.
This is not Guo’s first interstellar flight. In 2006, she led the mission design for the New Horizons spacecraft which traveled to Pluto. Her specialty is using the gravitational pull of planets along a spacecraft’s route to help propel it along its route. For the Parker Solar Probe, Guo plans to use the help of Venus’ gravitational field 7 separate times as it circles the sun.
Icarus may have had different luck if he had had Guo on his team.
I think this piece would warrant around 1000 words. I plan on speaking to Yanping Guo at NASA. I hope to get a short interview with the lead of the Parker Solar Probe project, Nikki Fox. I also plan on speaking to Hillary Dennison at NASA, who worked on an imaging instrument that will be on the probe and Rosanna Smith, who is an integration engineer (she is one of the ones literally putting the satellite together). You might notice these are all women. A cool aspect of this particular mission is how many awesome female scientists are involved.
This pitch is very time sensitive, considering that the probe launches in a little over 4 weeks. If you could let me know asap if you are interested, I would be very grateful!
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