February 11, 2000, Friday

   CHARLES GIBSON, anchor:

The space shuttle Endeavour took off today. The first manned launch of the millennium went off without a hitch. The shuttle is on a mapping mission of the Earth, which may seem a bit boring, but this mission is a milestone in the history of cartography. Man is a bit behind when it comes to mapping the home planet. We now have better maps of Venus than we do of Earth. Here's ABC's Jack Smith.

JACK SMITH reporting:

Spy planes and satellites have taken snapshots of parts of Earth before, but nothing like what Endeavour will bring back. It will have not cameras, but two radars, one in the cargo bay and the other at the end of a giant arm.

In the same way that humans use two eyes to judge depth, Endeavour will use its two radars for the first time to penetrate clouds and create a stereoscopic 3D map of most of the globe, images 30 times more precise than any available today that will be used first by the US military.

Mr. JOHN PIKE (Federation of American Scientists): With all of our airplanes and helicopters navigating using satellite navigation, they need to know where the valleys are they can hide in, and they need to know the hills that they need to avoid.

SMITH: But when Endeavour's data is finally analyzed, it is the civilian applications that may prove most important for they could save thousands of lives. Landslides: a mouse-click could determine which slopes are so steep they might give way. Volcanoes: detecting bulging ground domes could safely warn of eruptions days ahead of time, and floods, too.

Mr. EARNEST PAYLOR (NASA): Being able to understand how much rain is occurring in a certain area and then being able to predict where floodwaters may be--better predict where floodwaters could--could accumulate.

SMITH: Everything from better ground collision avoidance systems for aircraft to weather prediction and climate studies, Endeavour may change our lives in ways, today, we cannot even imagine. Jack Smith, ABC News, Washington.