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Vintage IBM tape drive in Apollo moon dust rescue

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An Australian scientist hopes to restore a vintage, refrigerator-sized IBM tape drive stored in a museum to recover Apollo moon mission data the space agency misplaced nearly 40f years ago.

NASA's only means of measuring moon dust during its Apollo missions has gone largely unappreciated until recently, reports Australia's ABC News. Now the trouble is getting a 1960s-era IBM 729 Mark V tape drive necessary to read the data up and running.

NASA's Apollo 11, 12, and 14 missions used a "dust detector" invented by Perth physicist Brian O'Brien. The data was stored on 173 data tapes at NASA and Sydney University, but O'Brien's preliminary findings didn't receive much interest, so the tapes were sent to storage.

Now moon dust is all the rage at NASA, which hopes to return there and even eventually build a lunar base. Unfortunately, a past "archiving error" resulted in NASA's copies getting chucked — and it only realized the error two years ago.

Luckily, the Australian backups didn't receive the same fate. O'Brien contacted the data recovery company SpectrumData, which offered to try and get hold of the information.

The tapes were kept in a climate-controlled room since then, but with no real way to unlock the data. Then SpectrumData stumbled upon an old IBM 729 Mark V tape drive at the Australian Computer Museum Society, which agreed to loan the historic metal.

"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," said Guy Holmes of SpectrumData.

He hopes to get the machine in working order by January, which will then take about a week to extract the long-lost moon dust data. ®

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