Stiff wind prevents on-time landing for Endeavour

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) - Stiff wind prevented space shuttle Endeavour from ending its Earth-mapping mission on time today, but NASA was hopeful the weather in Florida would improve for another try around sunset.

NASA said it would try for a landing Edwards Air Force Base in California if the wind didn't ease up at the Kennedy Space Center.

If bad weather keeps Endeavour and its crew of six in orbit until Wednesday, NASA will consider landing the shuttle at White Sands, N.M. But that is only if conditions remain poor at the two main touchdown sites.

Only Columbia has landed at White Sands, in 1982 after the third shuttle flight. The last Edwards landing was in 1996.

The astronauts completed their radar mapping Monday, surveying three-quarters of Earth's terrain over nine days and six hours.

They are bringing back more than 300 digital tapes that will be used to paint the finest portrait of the Earth's face ever made. A scientist working at Mission Control, Michael Kobrick, likens the mission to Hubble Space Telescope missions, saying key information will be revealed later.

''The Hubble flights were pretty exciting, but the real payoff was in the succeeding years as data started to come out. They really had an amazing succession of exciting discoveries,'' Kobrick said. ''And I think that's what you're going to see in the next two years as we start to process this 12 terabytes of radar data.''

That's enough information to fill 20,600 compact discs and keep teams of scientists busy for one to two years. NASA's partner, the Defense Department's National Imagery and Mapping Agency, gets first crack at the information, which it plans to use to aim missiles, guide aircraft and deploy troops with unprecedented precision.

The scientific community won't get to see all the data, since some of it will remain classified for national security reasons. But the 3-D maps created from the shuttle data will still be far superior to any in existence today.

All told, the radar aboard Endeavour mapped 43.5 million square miles of terrain at least twice. Multiple imaging is needed to create 3-D maps of peaks and valleys.

Aside from two equipment problems, the mapping went flawlessly.

A thruster at the end of a 197-foot mast malfunctioned early in the flight and forced flight controllers to tweak the fuel outlay so mapping could continue. Then, when the mast was reeled back in Monday, the astronauts had trouble latching it down inside a canister.

The thruster trouble caused Endeavour to fall a bit short of its bid to map 80 percent of the Earth's land masses.

The shuttle skipped the polar regions while flying a course that went as far north as Hudson Bay and as far south as Cape Horn.


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