Scientists around the world will be provided a unique vantage point for studying how the Earth's global environment is changing when Space Shuttle Endeavour is launched on Shuttle mission STS-59. ... During the 9-day mission, the Space Radar Laboratory (SRL) payload in Endeavour's cargo bay will give scientists highly detailed information that will help them distinguish human-induced environmental changes from other natural forms of change.
The Space Radar Laboratory (SRL) payload is comprised of the Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) and the Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellite (MAPS). The German Space Agency (DARA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) are providing the X-SAR instrument.
The imaging radar of the SIR-C/X-SAR instruments have the ability to make measurements over virtually any region at any time, regardless of weather or sunlight conditions. The radar waves can penetrate clouds, and under certain conditions, can also "see" through vegetation, ice and extremely dry sand. In many cases, radar is the only way scientists can explore inaccessible regions of the Earth's surface.
[Summary provided by NASA]