NASA's Parker Solar Probe lifts off | Reuters | NASA soalr probe | probe Parker

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A NASA spacecraft zoomed toward the sun Sunday on an unprecedented quest to get closer to our star than anything ever sent before.

The rocket sets a number of records.

"I realise that might not sound that close, but imagine the Sun and the Earth were a metre apart".

A space probe that will "touch the sun" and reach record-breaking speeds has successfully blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The craft will endure extreme heat while zooming through the solar corona to study the Sun's outer atmosphere that gives rise to the solar winds.

Parker, who first detailed the possibility of solar winds all the way back in 1958, said of the launch, "Wow, here we go!" "Why is the corona hotter than the surface of the sun?"

"So it's of fundamental importance for us to be able to predict this space weather much like we predict weather here on Earth".

For more than 60 years, scientist have wondered how energy and heat move through the solar corona and what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.

"We'll also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h (430,000mph) - NY to Tokyo in under a minute".

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NASA project manager Andy Driesman said: "We will fly by Venus seven times throughout the mission".

It left in the early hours of yesterday morning and will end up being just 3.8 million miles away from the surface of the sun.

For the second straight day, thousands of spectators jammed the launch site in the middle of the night as well as surrounding towns, including Parker and his family. "Even I still go, really?" "Congratulations to our team and mission partners, we are proud to launch this exceptional spacecraft that will provide invaluable scientific information benefiting all of humankind".

The probe is protected by heat shields capable of withstanding temperatures up to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, and it will complete 24 orbits of the sun by 2025, reaching speeds up to 430,000 miles per hour.

It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, a retired University of Chicago professor.

"We've accomplished something that decades ago, lived exclusively in the realm of science fiction", he added, describing the probe as one of NASA's "strategically important" missions.

"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done awesome things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist, told CNN. "We're in for some learning over the next several years".

Nicky Fox, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab - who were instrumental in the building of the spacecraft - said: "We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star".

As he watched the spacecraft fly into the sky, Parker joked: "I'll bet you 10 bucks it works".