It was initially called the Solar Probe Plus, but was renamed the Parker Solar Probe in honour of astrophysicist Eugene Parker. "This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "It's a testament to the importance of his body of work, founding a new field of science that also inspired my own research and many important science questions NASA continues to study and further understand every day. I'm very excited to be personally involved honouring a great man and his unprecedented legacy."
Parker published research predicting the existence of solar wind in 1958, when he was a young professor at the University of Chicago's Enrico Fermi institute. At the time, astronomers believed that the space between planets was a vacuum. Parker's first paper was rejected, but it was saved by a colleague, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, an astrophysicist who would be awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics.
Less than two years after Parker's paper was published, his theory of solar wind was confirmed by satellite observations. His work revolutionized our understanding of the Sun and interplanetary space. Parker is now the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. Zurbuchen and Nicola Fox, the mission project scientist for Parker Solar Probe, last year presented Parker with the first scale model of the probe and NASA's distinguished public service medal.
"I'm greatly honoured to be associated with such a heroic scientific space mission," Parker said. The Parker Solar Probe is carrying a chip with photos of Parker and his revolutionary paper, as well as a plate bearing inscription Parker chosen by Parker - his message to the Sun.
Image Credit: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis