DailyDirt: The Right Stuff From The Original Space Race

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

It's surprising how poorly documented some of the Apollo missions are now -- with lost original footage of the first lunar landing (eventually restored from other recordings). Now we're entering a new phase of space that's more privatized, so it's even more likely that commercial space programs will not be preserved for the benefit of all. Maybe someday all of NASA's tweets will be safely stored on magnetic tape, and SpaceX's first reusable rocket landing video will be preserved in HD. Or maybe we'll have to check on Elon Musk's closet after he dies to look for Martian souvenirs. If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.

Filed Under: apollo, astronauts, elon musk, manned missions, mercury 13, mercury 7, moon trees, neil armstrong, space, space exploration
Companies: nasa, spacex


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2015 @ 6:15pm

    "Maybe someday all of NASA's tweets will be safely stored on magnetic tape, and SpaceX's first reusable rocket landing video will be preserved in HD."

    First of all, magnetic tape does not exactly "safely" store things; it degrades over time. And it's very naïve to think that even without the near-certainty of data degradation, digital media will preserve things as well as the typewriter and film did. Digital formats as well as the physical media they're written on tend to become obsolete rather quickly. A huge amount of information and history from the early digital age has already been lost this way.

    And we can be sure that things are worse today than when the NY Times 1990 article "Lost on Earth: Wealth of Data Found in Space" was written:

    Even tapes in good condition may be missing the documents needed to decode them. Others are so old that computer experts no longer understand how they were programmed. Still others can be processed only on machinery so outdated that little of the necessary hardware remains.

    Two years ago, for example, Eric Eliason of the United States Geological Survey learned that more than 3,000 images from the Viking mission to Mars, obtained in the late 1970's, had never been processed from the master data record, the unprocessed data transmitted from the spacecraft.

    After tracking down the data, Mr. Eliason looked up the NASA documents that described how theywere entered. ''It was written in technical jargon,'' he said. ''Maybe it was clear to the person who wrote it but it was not clear to me 20 years later.''

    There were copies of some old computer programs used to turn the raw data into pictures, he said, but the source codes the computer needed to run the programs could not be found and the computers themselves no longer existed.


    http://www.nytimes.com/1990/03/20/science/lost-on-earth-wealth-of-data-found-in-space.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 24 Feb 2015 @ 9:21am

    Wait a second

    There were copies of some old computer programs used to turn the raw data into pictures, he said, but the source codes the computer needed to run the programs could not be found and the computers themselves no longer existed.


    The lack of source code and the lack of hardware should not be a complete stumper at all. It increases the amount of work needed, but reverse engineering binaries that were compiled for systems that no longer exist is totally a thing that can be done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2015 @ 10:54am

      Re: Wait a second

      Not a 'complete stumper' but the question will always be, how much will this restoration cost, and is it worth it? One challenge is reading old data from a magnetic, optical, or NVM storage medium when you lack the hardware required to read it. Reverse-engineering hardware (or even building it from specs) is hardly a trivial task.

      Many of us might face this very issue throughout our lives. Like, "How do I get the pictures off my no-longer-working no-name Taiwanese digital camera I bought over 20 years ago?"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 24 Feb 2015 @ 11:04am

        Re: Re: Wait a second

        I was speaking to the issue of reverse-engineering binaries specifically. I never claimed that it was a trivial thing to do. But it doesn't have to be expensive! Off the top of my head, I know four qualified engineers who would enjoy doing that work as a fun side-project for little or no charge (for the right organization, anyway).

        "Many of us might face this very issue throughout our lives. Like, "How do I get the pictures off my no-longer-working no-name Taiwanese digital camera I bought over 20 years ago?""

        I've encountered the same issue both personally and professionally for almost my entire career, with media written by equipment far older than that!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2015 @ 12:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: Wait a second

          It's funny that the really old stuff often isn't as hard to deal with. Like punch cards, paper tape, and electronics from the IBM era. It's the more recent stuff that can get tricky, especially whenever a new technology emerges. That's when many companies enter the field, and most of them fail, taking their proprietary formats with them. It happened with micro-computers (do people still call them that anymore?), CAD, digital cameras, and a host of other proprietary closed-format products that left consumers out to dry when the company folded, merged, or -- like Sony-- just felt like leaving its customers stranded and therefore forced to upgrade.

          After being burned repeatedly by 'betting on the wrong horse', I've decided it's usually best to wait a few years (at least) after something new comes out before investing in any kind of expensive purchase, to minimize the chance of being left with an orphan technology, format, or company.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            John Fenderson (profile), 24 Feb 2015 @ 2:27pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Wait a second

            "to minimize the chance of being left with an orphan technology, format, or company."

            Yes, you should not be storing data in proprietary data formats and should avoid any devices that insist that you do. Or, if that's impossible, export and convert that data to a standard format regularly.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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