You Can Let NASA Send Your Name Hurtling Into the Sun

Getting up close and personal to the moon and Mars is cool enough, but how about the sun? NASA is about to launch a spacecraft closer to our home star than ever before, and you're welcome aboard. It won't be as scorchingly violent as it sounds, we promise.

Hottest Ticket of the Year

Launching in 2018, NASA's Parker Solar Probe (PSP) is on a mission to get a better understanding of our sun than ever before. The space agency must worry that the probe will get lonely on the approximately 88-million-mile journey, so it's inviting the public to hitch a ride. Er, the names of the public, anyway. NASA is letting anyone submit their name online to be included on a microchip aboard the PSP. The probe, with the microchip in tow, will come within 4 million miles of the sun's surface (for reference, we're about 92 million miles from the sun here on Earth).

You can add your name to the mission by clicking right here and submitting before April 27, 2018. If you missed sending your name to Mars aboard InSight in October 2017, now's your chance to set sail in space. FYI, William Shatner's name is already locked in for the ride.

Getting Sun Serious

The (obviously unmanned) PSP mission will be a historic event for NASA. "This probe will journey to a region humanity has never explored before," said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. "This mission will answer questions scientists have sought to uncover for more than six decades." The PSP will get closer to the sun than any spacecraft has before in order to study it in greater detail than ever before. The study of the sun and its effects on the solar system, also known as heliophysics, isn't just for kicks. The data that the PSP will gather could help predict major space-weather events that could hit close to home — literally. A study by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that a large enough solar event could cause $2 trillion in damage in the U.S. alone. If we're caught off-guard, that is.

The main two questions the probe will aim to answer are why the sun's corona (its outermost layer) so much hotter than the photosphere below, and how the solar wind is accelerated. The only way to dig into these mysteries is to get up close and personal. "Parker Solar Probe is, quite literally, the fastest, hottest — and, to me, coolest — mission under the Sun," said project scientist Nicola Fox, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. "This incredible spacecraft is going to reveal so much about our star and how it works that we've not been able to understand."

Feeling the burn to learn more about the sun? Check out Leon Golub and Jay M. Pasachoff's enlightening book "The Sun." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Send Your Name to the Sun Aboard NASA's Parker Solar Probe

Written by Joanie Faletto March 21, 2018

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