Tuesday, June 30, 2009

NASA restoring 40 year old tapes containing Luna Images

Shaun Saunders sends in an article from Computerworld that for me at least demonstrates the need to constantly backup and migrate data to hardware that can easily access said data.

The project is called "Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project" at stake is deteriorating data. This data could show Earth's risk of an asteroid strike or shed light on global warming.

What the aging tapes contain are pictures taken by the Lunar Orbiter probes launched in the mid 60s with the primary mission of finding suitable landing areas for the upcoming Apollo project. What will be gained initially will be a comparison of the Moon's surface 45 years ago and today with pictures from the recently launched Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The original images were scanned, transmitted, reconstructed and then photographed again leading to image degradation with each step (think of copying a copy several times over) The researchers hope to go straight to the source, the original tapes from the probes, and build 1800 undistorted pictures.

Though, thankfully, the huge 2 inch wide tapes were still available, but the machines used to record them, Ampex FR-900 reel-to-reel units, weighing half a ton and resembling refrigerators, that were formerly used by the U.S. Air Force to record radar data but have not been manufactured since 1975 and it seemed that once the old ones were taken out of action, they were ummm dumped in the ocean. Luckily 4 of the antique machines were found and two decades later and 250,000 dollars in custom parts, 2 machines were restored. Luck prevailed again when the tapes proved still readable. Lots of work still remain in processing and editing. But as you can see by pictures above....well worth it. The grainy picture is what we first saw and the actual picture.

Computer World article

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