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Scientific Data Recovered from a Hard Drive that Crashed With Columbia


It would be amazing to think that anything could have survived the fiery destruction of the space shuttle Columbia, which broke up above Texas on February 1st, 2003, killing all 7 astronauts. Amazingly, tiny worms survived the break up and crash. And now, data recovery experts announced they were able to salvage scientific data from a charred hard drive.

The announcement was made last week by data recovery company Kroll Ontrack Inc. When they received a smashed up hard drive from NASA, it just looked like a hunk of metal. But after painstaking work, they were able to recover 99% of the information stored on the hard drive.

The hard drive was part of study of the critical viscosity of xenon gas. As the data were being gathered on board Columbia as part of its mission, they were being transmitted back down to Earth. They had only transmitted part of the data, enough to tell researchers that the experiment was working. They were going to wait until Columbia landed to get the rest. Of course, Columbia never landed.

What NASA sent to Kroll Ontrack was almost unrecognizable as a hard drive. Jon Edwards, a senior clean room engineer at the company said that the circuit board on the drive was burned beyond recognition and that all its components had fallen off. Every piece of plastic on the 400 MB Seagate hard drive had melted, and the chips were burned.

Unfortunately, two other drives that crashed with Columbia were so damaged that no data could could be extracted from them. One of the Seagate’s keys to its survival is that it was actually quite old and had a much lower data capacity. The 400 MB drive was about 8 years old in 2003. It had much more fault tolerance and durability that current hard drive capacity.

Engineers were able to remove the hard drive platters from the destroyed drive and transfer them to a new drive. From there they were able to reconstruct 99% of the data.

Original Source: Scientific American

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kidnex1 May 13, 2008, 5:35 PM

    how much would that cost?

  • TobiasMar May 13, 2008, 6:57 PM

    Wow…it’s hard to believe to think that, out of all things, the data within a hard drive would survive such a violent event.

  • cost May 14, 2008, 1:49 AM

    Cost? umm, think of the value of the marketing Kroll Ontrack can make of this…

    I’ve still got a 500Mb Seagate 5 1/4 hard drive that runs.. sure the spindle takes a while to hum up, but it’s never failed yet.

    sorry, did i say Kroll could market this… I meant Seagate…

  • alphonso richardson May 14, 2008, 7:22 AM

    Hmmm..good as an exercise. I wonder if the cost was worth it.
    Curiosity leads me to wonder about the flight/mission data recorders

  • Adam May 15, 2008, 3:04 PM

    This makes the white houses’s excuse for not recovering it’s own “lost e-mails” an obvious lie.

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