The crew of space shuttle Endeavour, in the first days of a mission to create the most precise maps of the Earth ever, has had nothing but good news for scientists back on the planet.
Not only is the radar survey of Earth's terrain proceeding without a hitch, but by Sunday morning the six astronauts had already mapped about 9 million square miles of Earth's surface, an area roughly three times the size of the United States.
The early results excited scientists on the ground. "This has been the best 25 hours and 19 minutes of my life so far," said Michael Kobrick, a scientist working at Mission Control. That's how long Endeavour had been in orbit.
NASA thought the deployment of the 197-foot radar antenna mast in the shuttle cargo bay might cause trouble. But the astronauts had no problems sending the mast out Friday, finishing early enough to begin mapping a bit ahead of schedule.
All the radar information is stored on data tapes aboard Endeavour. After nine days of mapping, the astronauts hope to fill nearly 300 tapes, or the equivalent of 13,500 compact discs.
Scientists expect it will take one to two years to analyze all the information. But snippets of data were sent down for analysis, and mission officials said they appeared to be of excellent quality.
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