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The BBC's Sue Nelson reports
"Accurate maps are highly sought after "
 real 28k

Shuttle launch live
Space shuttle Endeavour blasts off
 real 28k

Saturday, 12 February, 2000, 02:46 GMT
Shuttle passes key test

shuttle launch There are 13 tonnes of equipment on board

The crew of the space shuttle Endeavour has successfully completed the trickiest part of its 11-day Earth-mapping mission.

Around six hours after lift-off, the six-strong team deployed a 197ft (60m) radar mast - the longest fixed structure ever to fly in space.

Mast facts
Length of five buses
165lb (75kg) of stainless steel, titanium and plastic
440lb (199kg) of cable and wiring
Stable platform for precise measurements
Would not support own weight on Earth
"A long train out there," said Mission Control, as television images showed the segmented mast emerging from its container.

The radar will be used to make the most accurate topographical map of the planet to date, with only the polar regions going unrecorded. The mapping is due to begin 14.5 hours after launch.

Nasa had admitted there was some risk that the mast could bend or break - the steel, titanium and plastic structure had never been tested in the weightlessness of space.

Leak check

Endeavour blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida, at 1743GMT on Friday.

Within nine minutes and after burning nearly two million litres (420,000 gallons) of fuel, the external rockets shut down and the shuttle entered space.

The launch took place about 14 minutes after the scheduled time, as a leak check on the crew cabin had to be repeated.

"It looks like a great day to go fly," launch director Dave King told the crew shortly before lift-off.

"We're ready to map the world," replied shuttle commander Kevin Kregel.

Four month delay

The first countdown on 31 January failed due to a combination of bad weather and technical problems. The original launch date was supposed to be in September 1999.

The computer unit that malfunctioned in the final minutes of the first countdown had been replaced and the extensive attention to the condition of the whole shuttle fleet in recent months meant that Endeavour was in "tiptop shape", according to shuttle programme manager Ron Dittemore.

The mission is largely sponsored by the US National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which supplies top-secret satellite and reconnaissance images to US defence and intelligence agencies.

Most of the best-quality maps generated by this mission will remain classified but lower resolution maps are to be made available to the public for use by scientists, civil engineers and commercial companies.

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See also:
30 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Shuttle take-off postponed
28 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Endeavour set to map Earth
30 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Shuttle flew with fault
29 Jul 99 |  Sci/Tech
Shuttle fuel leak 'too close for comfort'
07 Sep 99 |  Sci/Tech
Space shuttles may fly till 2040

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