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While many have lamented the end of the space-shuttle era, NASA has quickly turned to dreaming up the next grand space adventure: sending an unmanned solar probe to "plunge" into the Sun's atmosphere and investigate its properties. The mission, which is slated for 2018, will equip the Solar Probe Plus with a heat shield able to withstand temperatures over 2,550 degrees Fahrenheit, aiming to "provide answers" to questions that scientists have wrestled with for decades. Pundits explain what exactly the mission will entail:

  • It's No Theatrical Stunt reports Kit Eaton at Fast Company. The Solar Probe Plus will have five missions as it ventures near the sun: it "will measure electrons, protons and helium ions in the solar wind, produce amazing wide-field 3-D images of the Sun's corona, detect the electromagnetic shock-wave concussions and fields in the solar atmosphere, sample and detect the elements in the atmosphere and attempt to work out the heliosphere's origins." Plus, "sheer curiosity" is always at the root of such "awesome" missions.
  • Aiming 'for the Heart of the Sun (Literally)' writes Rebecca Doyle gleefully at Popular Science. The main thrust of the "five missions" the Solar Probe will undertake is studying solar radiation. "Improved solar storm forecasts could protect future long-distance space explorers who would not be protected by Earth’s magnetic field," she notes. "NASA’s goals are to figure out why the sun’s corona is several hundred times hotter than the surface and why it produces an accelerating solar wind....The only way to do it is to go to the source, NASA says."
  • 'It's A Region No Other Spacecraft Has Ever Encountered' marvels Mashable's Stan Schroeder. The four million mile trip is slated to leave sometime before 2018 and will hope to "solve" two key questions. Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division in Washington names them: "why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun’s visible surface and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system?"
  • Astronomers Have Dreamed About This For a Half-Century since "the National Academy of Science's 'Simpson Committee' in 1958 recommended a probe to investigate," observes Charles Cooper. "Several studies were subsequently carried out to test the feasibility of the project, but nothing came of them." Until now, that is.

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