Sysadmin crashed computer recording data from active space probe

‘I’m the reason we missed seeing aliens’, jokes nervous reader

By Simon Sharwood


Who, me? Welcome again to Who, Me? The Register’s new column* in which readers confess to times they performed sub-optimally and broke important stuff.

This week, meet “Fred”, who begged us “Oh God, please don't use my real name or contact info.”

Fred’s desire for anonymity stems from the fact that in the late 1970s he worked for a Very, Very Famous Space Agency on two Very, Very High Profile Space Probes.

And he broke one for a few minutes.

“My primary job was repairing the computers controlling the spacecraft,” Fred explained. One of the missions he worked on “was winding down a bit so I was asked to remove some equipment from one of the rooms where its peripherals were stored.” Once the old stuff had been chucked, Fred would put in the new stuff for the more active mission

“The last thing to remove was an IBM 1403 printer. However, I was not familiar with its connectivity to the IBM 360 mainframe … but I proceeded to remove the two large cables attached at the bottom anyway and moved the printer out into the hallway.”

'The capacitors exploded, showering the lab in flaming confetti'


“Not a minute later one of my co-workers ran into the room yelling ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?’”

At this point in proceedings, Fred was unaware of any issues so explained what he’d been told to do.

He quickly received the news that whatever his instructions, implementing them had taken down the mission and it had missed three minutes of data from the spacecraft.

“When I repeat the story to some close friends, I usually end with ‘And that was the three minutes when the spacecraft found life on another planet."

Whatever knowledge humanity missed out on, Fred learned that “with IBM mainframe peripherals, you had to stop the computer and terminate the Bus and Tag cables before restarting, otherwise the system comes to a screeching halt.”

What have you brought to a screeching halt, and what happened afterwards? Click here to share your story with Who, me? and we might just be able to slot you in here on a future Monday morning. ®

* Who, me? is a companion piece to On-Call, our weekly story of tech support trauma caused by silly users, bilious bosses or incompetent colleagues. In Who, me? the joke’s on you, for having messed things up all by yourself.

Sign up to our NewsletterGet IT in your inbox daily


More from The Register

Make a SAP decision: Apply these security fixes if you're using German giant's software

11 patches ship on Patch Tuesday

App-happy SAP Santa offers partners free access to Cloud Platform

All the better to lock customers into its fluffy white services

SAP 404s blog post that said it's fallen behind on SaaS subs

Partner-penned post said SAP might be as good as Google or IBM ... one day

What's in the container, Cisco? A nice, plump SAP Data Hub

One Kubernetes to rule them all

Pulses quicken at NASA as SpaceX gets closer to crewed launches and Russia readies the next Soyuz

If only there was some way the agency could unwind a bit. Or maybe not

SAP claims French robo minnow Contextor slurp will slash clicks needed in its ERP software

Automated mercy for those knobbly pointers

How the mighty have fallen: Anglian Water knocks Google off perch as UK's best workplace

Facebook not even in survey's top 50, while Goldman Sachs lords it over tech's big-hitters

SAP faces further South African corruption probe

Reports of $2m kickback for deal with water ministry

SAP slaps down Teradata's 'trade secret' sueball with sick burn

ERP giant: You're just mad because you've 'fallen behind'

Screwed SAP salesman scores $660,000 jury award

Steven Serabian beats software company soundly