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NASA designs 3D digital map of Earth

Geographers, video game designers and anyone else who needs a detailed three-dimensional map of Earth’s mountains, valleys, and other land areas now have one available. Technicians at the U.S. space agency NASA and the Defense Department have finished converting high altitude space shuttle radar images of our planet into full-color digital topographical maps that far exceed the detail and accuracy of previous images.

The space shuttle mission bounced radar signals off Earth’s surface for 10 days in 2000, but it has taken technicians four years working with supercomputers to make commercially useful three-dimensional maps of them. The last land areas to be completed are Australia, New Zealand, and islands in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA scientist Michael Kobrick says two radars aboard the space shuttle collected 12 terabytes of raw elevation data. That is enough digital information to fill 15 million compact disks.

The new topographical maps can be purchased on compact discs from the U.S. Geological Survey.