The above color-relief images show Mount Everest before and after the SRTM no-data areas have been filled. Click here and here to view larger unfilled and filled areas around Everest, or here and here for the area around K2.
For eleven days in February 2000 the Space Shuttle "Endeavour" and its seven brave astronauts executed the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) to map the world. Earlier this year NASA released the finished product, mapping 99.8% of the world's topography at a resolution of three arc seconds. The scope, resolution and accuracy of this product are enormous improvements on anything previously available, and moreover it has been released into the public domain, which means that it is not subject to any copyright restrictions. I salute NASA!
Applications of this data are many and various. Imagine being able to stand anywhere in the world and identify the entire view, all the way to the far distant horizons!
But unfortunately not quite all the world was mapped. The polar regions, north of 60 degrees and south of 56 degrees of latitude, were not mapped. And although the 0.2% of the rest of the world may not seem significant, its significance is increased by the fact that it covers the highest summits of most of the world's mountain ranges, including all 14 of the world's 8000m+ summits and most of the world's 6000m+ summits.
At present, several websites recommend filling these no-data areas from a Global 30 arc second database, but I am familiar with this and its resolution and quality are far from adequate.
More than 10 years later, NASA's SRTM data still do not cover these areas. I began the task of filling them from alternative sources in May 2005 and completed it in November 2012, completing NASA's mission to map the world.
Occasionally I am asked if I intend to sell my work. The answer is no. I will continue to make it available as a free public service. That is the way I believe it should be. Economic theory tells us that the general interest is best served when price is based on reproduction cost, which thanks the internet, is nil.
Generally, I do not believe that commercial success is the only measure of success. In the 16th century the German astronomer Kepler mapped the solar system, despite the indifference of the rest of the world and the hostility of the clerical authorities of his time. He died penniless, but from his work there followed Newton's Laws of motion and eventually modern science.
While there are those who will never see the benefit of doing anything unless it provides short-term remuneration that can be measured by accountants, I hope that some will agree that what I am doing is worthwhile.