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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 16:58 GMT
Endeavour maps half the globe

Mast The thruster steadies the 60-metre-long mast

The space shuttle Endeavour has now mapped more than half the Earth's surface.

The shuttle has already gathered topographic data on an area equivalent to the size of Africa, Australia and the North American continent. It is building up the information at a rate of some 100,000 square kilometres (38,610 square miles) per minute.

The data are being laid down on 300 high-density recording tapes, and would fill about 13,500 compact discs. The end product - after a year of computer processing - will be the most detailed, three-dimensional map of the planet ever constructed.

"After only three days of flight, the mission has tripled the world's supply of digital terrain elevation data," said a spokesman at Nasa's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

"The low-resolution images processed so far show many topographic features that until now have been difficult to detect on the best maps in existence today."

Karamea Bight in New Zealand: Superb quality Karamea Bight in New Zealand: Superb quality

Nasa's only concern is a small, malfunctioning thruster that threatens to cut the mission short.

The affected valve is positioned on the end of the 60-metre-long (197-feet) radar mast that juts out of Endeavour's cargo bay. It exerts no more pressure than a penny lying in your hand but is vital for steadying the telescopic structure.

Engineers detected some flow of nitrogen gas feeding the thruster but suspect there is a leak somewhere in the gas line.

To compensate for the failure, Endeavour's pilots have had to fire the thrusters on the shuttle more than usual.

These firings do not interfere with the quality of mapping data being collected, but the additional fuel used by the vehicle may mean an early end to the mission.

"The team's working very hard on that problem," astronaut Janice Voss said from orbit on Tuesday. "Even without that thruster, we're getting superb data. We're hoping to be able to get even more data if we can get that thruster fixed."

Shuttle Data are gathered by radar antennae mounted in the shuttle payload bay and on the end of the extended mast

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Launch console

See also:
12 Feb 00 |  Sci/Tech
Earth mapping mission begins
12 Feb 00 |  Sci/Tech
Shuttle passes key test
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'

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