NASA embarks on mission to 'touch the sun'

More than 50 years after it was first proposed, NASA is planning to send a spacecraft into the brutal and blistering heat of the sun, getting closer than any other man-made attempt.

The space organisation is set to make an announcement on its first ever mission to the sun's surface which would provide vital information about the relationship between the star and Earth.

The Space Probe Plus is set for launch in 2018 and will get within 6.2 million kilometres of the sun  well within the orbit of Mars and seven times as close as any other human spacecraft.

NASA says the valuable data will revolutionise what we know about the sun and the physics of how stars work.

They say it'll also help forecast major space weather events.

And the stakes are high - a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that without advanced warning a huge solar event could cause $2 trillion of damage in the US alone and could cut power to the eastern seaboard for a year.

The probe will get into the corona  the sun's outer atmosphere  and will aim to answer questions about why it is hotter there than the sun's surface.

Temperatures in the corona can get up to around 900,000degC compared to the relatively cool 6000degC on the surface.

The corona is unstable and is what produces solar winds and solar flares.

The concept of the solar probe dates back to 1958.