Backing Up Is Not Enough   Leave a comment

A story of data tapes and what it took to restore them.  Nancy Evans is a hero, and the people at LOIRP are maniacs.  I love them.  [edited to add]: An archaeologist’s take.

But there was a problem. Although the original high-resolution images were saved on 2-inch-wide tape, those pictures weren’t seen by the public. The images that scrolled across television screens and appeared on the front pages of newspapers were snapshots of the originals using standard 35-millimeter film. The images were grainy and washed-out, like a poorly tuned television set.

The full collection of Lunar Orbiter data amounted to 2,500 tapes. Assembled on pallets, they constituted an imposing monolith 10 feet wide, 20 feet long and 6 feet high. The mountain of tapes was just part of Evans’ new burden. There was no point, she realized, in preserving the tapes unless she also had an FR-900 Ampex tape drive to read them. But only a few dozen of the machines had been made for the military. The $330,000 tape drives were electronic behemoths, each 7 feet tall and weighing nearly a ton.

Wingo, Cowing and Zin worked into the night with student volunteers, cannibalizing the tape drives to get one machine working. “We felt a sense of urgency,” said Greg Schmidt, deputy director of NASA’s Lunar Science Institute at Ames.  They had managed to get $100,000 from NASA for their project, and decided they would focus their efforts on the Earthrise picture. The drives kept breaking down. Rebuilding the demodulator that converted the electronic signals into images proved particularly difficult. When they couldn’t find parts at warehouses, they dug through rusted rocket shells at Ames’ junkyard to perform what Zin called a “wrecking yard rebuild.”

The project has so far cost $250,000, far less than the $6-million estimate by NASA. Having succeeded once, the team released its second image this weekend — the Copernicus crater. The team eventually hopes to retrieve all 2,000 images from the five missions. The images will be of more than historical interest. In April, NASA is scheduled to launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to again map the moon. This time it will be looking for a site to erect a permanent human base. By comparing the new images with the old ones, scientists will be able to study changes in the lunar surface. That information could be invaluable to colonists.

In the interests of fairness, when you look at how much effort was put into this project on a volunteer basis, the project has easily cost a whole heapin’ load more than $250,000.  Most of that has been on the shoulders of some pretty stubborn individuals who wouldn’t let this die:

[edited to add] A blog with photos of the project, not nearly as nice as the one above, I’ll grant you:


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Posted April 8, 2009 by padraic2112 in astronomy, science, tech

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