An archiving error by NASA has meant 173 data tapes have sat in Perth for almost 40 years, holding information about lunar dust that could be vital in expanding science’s understanding of the moon. The Apollo 11, 12 and 14 missions of the late 1960s carried “dust detectors” that were invented by Perth physicist Brian O’Brien. This information was beamed back to earth and recorded onto tapes.
Which were then misplaced by NASA and how do you read forty-year-old tapes, anyway? Like this:
When Dr O’Brien learnt of the tape loss, he was contacted by Guy Holmes from data recovery company SpectrumData, who offered to try and get hold of the information [from O’Brien’s copies].
Mr Holmes has kept the tapes in a climate-controlled room since then, and it was only when he stumbled upon a 1960s IBM 729 Mark 5 tape drive at the Australian Computer Museum Society that his company had the ability to unlock the information. The computer enthusiasts who run the Sydney-based group agreed to lend the almost archaic-looking recorder, which is in need of tender love and care, to Mr Holmes.
You can see a 729 drive here. It’s going to take some work to get it up and running, though:
“The drives are extremely rare, we don’t know of any others that are still operating,” [Mr Holmes] said. “It’s going to have to be a custom job to get it working again. It’s certainly not simple, there’s a lot of circuitry in there, it’s old, it’s not as clean as it should be and there’s a lot of work to do.”
Mr Holmes is hopeful of getting the tape recorder working again in January.