When the National Geographic Society began to print its new atlas in July, it was confident enough in the unification of Germany to so portray it. The Germans had been saying the reunited country would have two capitals, Bonn and Berlin. But on Sept. 21, with the hand-gluing and binding of some 5,000 copies of the 405-page volume completed, the Geographic learned that Berlin alone would be the capital. The presses were stopped, said Geographic President Gilbert Grosvenor, "and we revised the maps at a cost of $100,000."

The erroneous volumes, corrected with "permanent" stick-on labels, are being given free to schools in poor districts across the country, said spokeswoman Barbara Hand Fallon. Geographic Editor William Graves said the society has already had calls from people wanting to buy the incorrect copies.

Grosvenor introduced the Geographic's sixth Atlas of the World -- the first to use a mosaic of satellite images to portray the Earth -- and celebrated the 75th anniversary of its cartography division, at a luncheon yesterday in the Hubbard dining room of the Geographic.

"This atlas represents the greatest upheavals since 1918," said Grosvenor, enumerating some other changes: "Kuwait is still too unstable, after the invasion by Iraq, so we have a last-minute note. The weakening of the Soviet Union caused the Geo to show member republics, including the Baltic states, in different colors, without the usual U.S.S.R. designation."

The cartographers also kept their eyes on the status of Quebec, South Africa, Israel and the Arab states, Hong Kong and Macau, and the Kuril Islands. "Publishing the Atlas was a scramble -- like covering a constantly breaking news story," said Graves. Just in case, "at least" two updates are included in the price ($59.95 in softcover, $74.95 for the hardcover).

The effort to portray "the round Earth on flat paper," said Geographic chief cartographer John B. Garver Jr., spun into place this time with the help of satellite imaging. To show the whole world at once, multiple images by satellites were put together like "mosaics," corrected by computers, enhanced by painter John Bonner and projected by Arthur Robinson. Each of the seven continent sections of the world is introduced in the book with "dazzling," as Garver puts it, satellite images. A low-pressure system spiraling west of Europe is especially dramatic.

The 100-person cartographic staff worked on the edition for almost two years to locate 150,000 place names and to make maps -- including 74 political, 8 physical (some fold-out) and 5 of the ocean floor, as well as others on population, land use, transportation and environment. A final section on the solar system shows planets as photographed by Voyager 2.

The Geographic has published 280,000 copies of the sixth edition at a cost of $18 million. The first atlas was published in 1963, though maps produced by the Geographic's staff have been regularly published in National Geographic magazine since the founding of the cartography division in 1915. Garver said the Geographic "publishes unbound double-faced maps five or six times a year for its 10- to 11-million membership, a total of at least 20 million maps a year, not to count the ones bound with the magazine text -- I believe we print more maps than anyone in the world."

In February, Graves said, the Geographic plans an updated and detailed map of the Middle East. "We're offering 50,000 plastic-coated copies to U.S. military schools and troops." He added that some U.S. soldiers might have found their deployment to Saudi Arabia dislocating.

"As Grosvenor put it, 'If you don't know where you are, you're nowhere.' "