Vintage IBM tape drive in Apollo moon dust rescue
40-year-old data recovery
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. ®
RIAA will probably sue them in court if they post the results of the data online for everyone to benefit from
IBM could but...
IBM could build a new tape drive from the old blueprints. The trouble is they were scanned and saved to IBM tapes. So they need to build a tape drive to read the data on how to build a tape drive...ad infinitum. Should have used paper tape at least you can read that by eye.
Surely this is rather easy ....
Far be it for me to suggest the "specialist data recovery firm" dont really know what they are doing, but .. I have a sneaky suspicion the specialist data recovery firm don't really know what they are doing.
A 729 drive is a fairly impressive beasty, vacuum columns for the tapes, complex stop.start pinch roller assemblies and a data interface to make your ears bleed ...
However ... reading these tapes could be relatively simple and easily accomplished on some rather hum-drum everyday equipment ... don't forget, the major complication of the 729 was its ability to stop and start the tape in a 3/4" length of tape space ... important if you are reading in records live to a program or executing from tape ... but all we need to do here is recover the data from the tape as it stands! ... a regular 1/2" audio tape deck (I could probably point them in the direction of few nice Studer A80's for minimal cash) with a custom head (£500 roughly, not that expensive to have made up) and you could replay he data at a constant rate ... digitize it and sort it out later. Once the data is recovered and digitized, recovering the information is relatively trivial.
I'll wager the 729, even if they get it goiong, will eat a few tapes during the replay process, using a modern deck to recover the raw signals and digiise them is a MUCH saner plan.
Vintage Data Processor
Refurbishing a 729 is a ambitious project. First there is the availability of parts and a controller. Then there is the cost , a system to attach it to and the available system time to transfer the data to another media. And, while I have great respect for IBM technology. Who knows how reliable a 40+ year old 729 tape drive will be when it comes to processing that many tapes. There may be better alternatives. Here are a few:
. A GOOGLE search on "tape drive" followed by a within search, "7 track". Turned up at least one firm that specializes in tape data recovery. For a project of this size and sensitivity you should deal with a firm that has experience and understands how to handle fragile materials.
. There are newer 9 track drives capable of reading 7 track reel tapes available. Finding one that is available along with system time may be a bit of a challenge. But if you put out the word hopefully someone will respond with an offer.
I wonder if the drivers are on Windows Update?