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Watch the shuttle touch down
Endeavour ends four million mile journey
 real 28k

Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 00:29 GMT
Endeavour ends mapping mission
Bad weather had delayed both launch and landing
The space shuttle Endeavour has returned to Earth at the end of an ambitious, 11-day mission to gather radar images that will form the finest-ever maps of the planet.

Commander Kevin Kregel guided the shuttle down through a clear skies moments after sunset.

Shuttle lands
Twilight touchdown
But the homecoming was delayed by 90 minutes when gusty winds at the runway forced him to make an extra swing around Earth.

The shuttle landed at the Kennedy Space Center at 18:22 (23:22 GMT) local time after a re-entry that took it across North Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia.

The crew completed the mapping mission on Monday. In just nine days and six hours, the six astronauts surveyed three-quarters of the Earth's terrain, leaving out only the poles.

Finest portrait

They have brought back 300 digital tapes that will be used to paint the finest portrait of the Earth's face ever made.

Peal Harbour in 3-D
Mapping technology: Peal Harbour in 3-D
All told, the radar aboard Endeavour mapped 112 million square kilometres (43.5 million square miles) at least twice. Scientists say that double imaging was needed to create precise 3-D maps of the Earth's topography as far north as Alaska and as far south as the tip of South America.

The United States Defence Department has said it will use the maps to improve its missile aiming and deployment of troops.

Civilian users will have to settle for less precise data because of national security issues, but scientists say the information will still be far superior to what is currently available.

"There's every reason to be excited," said mission scientist Dr Thomas Hennig.

Fuel conservation

The astronauts would have mapped 6.5 million square kilometres (2.5 million square miles) more if a thruster had not malfunctioned on the end of the radar mast, the longest rigid structure ever flown in space.

A weeklong effort to conserve fuel aboard Endeavour allowed the astronauts to continue mapping on Sunday and bought an additional nine hours and 10 minutes for the mission.

The astronauts have collected enough data to fill 20,600 compact discs. It will take scientists one to two years to go through it all.

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See also:

30 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
Shuttle flew with fault
07 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Space shuttles may fly till 2040
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