Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off into a clear blue Florida sky today (12:43 EST - 17:43 GMT - 18:43 CET) with ESA astronaut Gerhard Thiele (Germany) aboard on his maiden spaceflight. Originally scheduled for 31 January, the launch had been postponed due to bad weather and a Shuttle technical problem.
Thiele and his five fellow international crewmembers are looking forward to carrying out one of the most significant space surveys of our planet ever undertaken, using precisely positioned radars to map its surface in close-up.
Over 11 days, the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) will gather enough data to produce a new three-dimensional map of virtually the entire globe - some 80 percent of the Earth's land mass, covering an area between the southern tip of Greenland and South Georgia close to the Antarctic Circle. Similar Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) techniques were pioneered by ESA's ERS 1 and 2 satellites, which have been monitoring the entire Earth since the early '90s.
About five hours after launch, the crew will begin deploying a 60-metre mast, the longest structure ever flown on the Shuttle. It carries one of the two radars that will carry out the mapping. Should the mast fail to unfold automatically, Thiele could be required to perform a spacewalk to extend it manually.
Once the tricky deployment manoeuvre has been completed, the Shuttle will turn over and travel with its back to the Earth and tail first to give the main radar antenna in the cargo bay an unobstructed view of the ground.
The radar instruments will then be activated and data collection will proceed at the staggering rate of 270 MB per second.
Collection will continue for nine days, with Thiele and his crewmates working two 12-hour shifts to monitor data recording and downloading to Earth.
The astronauts will retract the 60-metre arm on the tenth day of the mission, with landing scheduled for 22 February at around 16:38 EST (22:38 CET).
SRTM is a joint project between NASA, the United States National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) developed the C-band Spaceborne Imaging Radar and DLR developed the X-band Synthetic Aperture radar (X-SAR). Dornier Satellitensysteme GmbH, a corporate unit of DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa), is the prime contractor for the X-SAR system.
For further information, see the following web pages :
For up-to-date information on the mission, contact the following press desks :
ESA/DLR desk at Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany
Tel: +49.8153/28-1802 or 1803
ESA desk at the Johnson Space Center, Houston (2-12 February):