NASA Goes 'Down Under' for Shuttle Mapping Mission Finale
Culminating more than four years of processing data, NASA and the
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency have completed Earth's most
extensive global topographic map.
Image right: Australia is the world's smallest, flattest, and (after Antarctica) driest continent, but at 7.7 million square kilometers (3.0 million square miles) it is also the sixth largest country. Its low average elevation (300 meters, or less than 1000 feet) is caused by its position near the center of a tectonic plate, where there are no volcanic or other geologic forces of the type that raise the topography of other continents. Image credit: NASA/JPL.
The data, extensive enough to fill the U.S. Library of Congress,
were gathered during the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, which
flew in February 2000 on the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
The digital elevation maps encompass 80 percent of Earth's landmass.
They reveal for the first time large, detailed swaths of Earth's
topography previously obscured by persistent cloudiness. The data
will benefit scientists, engineers, government agencies and the
public with an ever-growing array of uses.
"This is among the most significant science missions the Shuttle has
ever performed, and it's probably the most significant mapping
mission of any single type ever," said Dr. Michael Kobrick, mission
project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,
The final data release covers Australia and New Zealand in
unprecedented uniform detail. It also covers more than 1,000 islands
comprising much of Polynesia and Melanesia in the South Pacific, as
well as islands in the South Indian and Atlantic oceans.
"Many of these islands have never had their topography mapped,"
Kobrick said. "Their low topography makes them vulnerable to tidal
effects, storm surges and long-term sea level rise. Knowing exactly
where rising waters will go is vital to mitigating the effects of
future disasters such as the Indian Ocean tsunami."
Data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission are being used for
applications ranging from land use planning to "virtual" Earth
exploration. "Future missions using similar technology could monitor
changes in Earth's topography over time, and even map the topography
of other planets," said Dr. John LaBrecque, manager of NASA's Solid
Earth and Natural Hazards Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington,
The mission's radar system mapped Earth from 56 degrees south to 60
degrees north of the equator. The resolution of the publicly
available data is three arc-seconds (1/1,200th of a degree of
latitude and longitude, about 295 feet, at Earth's equator). The
mission is a collaboration among NASA, the National Geospatial-
Intelligence Agency, and the German and Italian space agencies. The
mission's role in space history was honored with a display of the
mission's canister and mast antenna at the Smithsonian Institution's
Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Va.
To view a selection of new images from the Shuttle Radar Topography
Mission's latest data set on the Internet, visit
To view a new fly-over animation of New Zealand on the Internet,
To learn more about this mission, visit http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/srtm
. For an interactive multimedia geography quiz using data from the
mission, visit http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/srtm/
For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:
Alan Buis (818) 354-0474
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Gretchen Cook-Anderson (202) 358-0836
NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Howard Cohen (301) 227-3105
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Bethesda, Md.