As of October 29, 2018, NASA's Parker Solar Probe "holds the record for closest approach to the Sun by a human-made object," NASA. Sounds impressive, right? And it is. Though it hasn't had much competition. Over the last several decades space exploration has been focused on looking outward to the edge of the solar system and beyond. That is, away from the sun. Which is why the previous record for proximity to the suns has stood since 1976 when an American–West German joint project known as got within 27 million miles of our star.
And that's not the only Helios 2 record in danger. The Parker is expected to break that spacecraft's speed record for traveling relative to the sun as well. The Helios 2 set the heliocentric speed record at 153,454 miles per hour. The Parker will be at 430,000.
“It’s been just 78 days since Parker Solar Probe launched, and we’ve now come closer to our star than any other spacecraft in history,” says project manager Andy Driesman, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, in a . “It’s a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on October 31.”
NASA is able to monitor the Parker's whereabouts through the , or DSN. The largest and most sensitive telecommunications system in the world, the DSN is made up of three facilities—near Barstow, California; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia. These global sites allow NASA to remain in constant communication with spacecraft through radio waves picked up by antenna.
The success of the Parker mission, which affords scientists an unprecedented view of our star, provides a moment to look back at , overshadowed in its own time by the Viking 2 landing on Mars. Through tests on solar plasma and cosmic rays, the Helios 2 established a foundation for our understanding of how the sun affects the entire solar system.
The Parker will continue flying closer to the solar surface until it reaches first perihelion—the point it will be closest to the sun—at approximately 10:28 p.m. EST on November 5.