Throughout its seven-year mission, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will swoop through the Sun’s atmosphere 24 times, getting closer than any spacecraft has gone before. The spacecraft will carry more than scientific instruments on this historic journey, though; it also will hold more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to go to the Sun.
“Parker Solar Probe is going to revolutionize our understanding of the Sun, the only star we can study up close,” said Nicola Fox, project scientist for Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. “It’s fitting that as the mission undertakes one of the most extreme journeys of exploration ever tackled by a human-made object, the spacecraft will also carry along the names of so many people who are cheering it on its way.”
In March 2018, the public were invited to send their names to the Sun aboard humanity’s first mission to “touch” a star. A total of 1,137,202 names were submitted online, and a memory card containing the names was installed on the spacecraft on May 18—three months before the scheduled July 31 launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The card was mounted on a plaque bearing a dedication to and a quote from the mission’s namesake, University of Chicago physicist Eugene Parker, who first theorized the existence of the solar wind.