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Space shuttle mapping mission ends with Down Under

Nearly five years after its launch, the space shuttle Endeavour’s mission to map planet Earth is finally over. NASA released detailed topographic maps of Australia and New Zealand on 6th January. The maps also showed more than 1000 islands in the South Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.

The release wraps up a project that mapped 80% of the Earth’s land surface – the most complete elevation map ever assembled. The missing areas were in the extreme north and south, such as Antarctica and Greenland, as the shuttle cannot fly over the poles.

“This is the last set of data that people have been waiting for,” says Michael Kobrick, mission project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, US. “It’s sort of version 1.0.”

For version 2.0, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), a division of the US Department of Defense, will use previous data to fill in gaps in the maps. Not all result from the shuttle’s flight path – others are caused by mountain shadows in the Himalayas and sand scattering the radar signals in the Sahara.