Star Trek, the Sun, and the Parker Solar Probe

The Parker Solar Probe, named after scientist Eugene Parker, is meant to record data to better our comprehension of our own sun and the large-scale effects it has on weather. It is the first craft sent into space which bears the name of a living person. (The physicist is in his early nineties.)

Some of the probe’s specific primary purposes are searching for the energy source that powers solar wind and learning about the structure of plasma, the rarely discussed fourth phase of matter which seldom occurs naturally on Earth. The name is a fitting one since some of Eugene Parker’s greatest work has to do with solar wind and the sun’s magnetic field.

Due to the significance of the sun in relation to life and weather on our planet, the Parker Solar Probe’s discoveries may have an important bearing on scientific studies. Prior to its launching, there was an ad featuring William Shatner (Star Trek), who was asking the viewers if they would join him and “touch the sun.” It was simply a promotional campaign. As in any good campaign, something was offered for free. In this case, it was a digital certificate called a “hot ticket.”

In part, it stated, “Thank you for joining the first mission to touch the sun! A memory card containing your name will be included on the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft.” It was what was promised in that second sentence that hooked me. If Shatner and NASA were telling the truth, then my name and my memory has gone into the cosmos outside of my home planet. And that’s pretty cool.

My certificate.

Mine was one of 1,137,202 names (I almost feel unique) which were placed on a card that was installed on the probe on May 18. In addition to over a million names, the memory card included pictures of Eugene Parker and his 1958 paper of great significance, “Dynamics of the Interplanetary Gas and Magnetic Fields.” The card was then affixed to a small plaque which had a quote from Parker on it. It reads, “Let’s see what lies ahead.”

The NASA probe was launched on August 12, 2018. Intended to pass through the sun’s atmosphere two dozen times, the Parker Solar Probe was designed to push beyond boundaries which had not been crossed in relation to the proximity of the sun. It was literally meant to go where no probe had gone before.

On Monday, November 5, the first of the 24 passes was successful. The first contact from the probe back to Earth is going to be a single beep. From this beep, the engineers on the project will be able to better anticipate from the information that will be transmitted. This moment is expected to take place in December.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Of Intellect and Interest’s home site here.