Ready to map the world

Beleaguered shuttle finally launches on mission to take images of the Earth's surface

After nearly five months of delays, the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission finally lifted off Friday when the Space Shuttle Endeavour successfully reached its orbit 154 miles above Earth.

The mission originally was scheduled for September, but problems with Space Shuttle Discovery's wiring led to the rewiring of all space shuttle vehicles. Computer malfunctions and inclement weather lead to the delay of SRTM last month, and NASA postponed the mission Feb. 1 to replace Endeavour's master events controller, which fires the rocket boosters at takeoff and separation.

Endeavour is equipped with two radar-imaging devices that will collect terrain elevation data of more than 80 percent of the Earth's surface. The information will be used to create more detailed and accurate maps for the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.

"We are ready to map the world," shuttle commander Kevin Kregel announced moments before takeoff.

NIMA's maps are used by the military, the Defense Department and other agencies for tactical planning, to simulations, to archeological digs.

The analysis of the digital images collected during the 11-day shuttle mission will take more than 18 months by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It will take another nine to 12 months to create maps from the analyzed data, according to a NIMA spokesman.

Up-to-the-minute information on the SRTM project and chat-room discussions with astronauts are available at www.jpl.nasa.gov/srtm.

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