Spaceflight Now


Recovered data tape in relatively good condition
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: March 24, 2003

Magnetic tape inside a data recorder recovered last week in Texas appears to be in remarkably good shape, despite the stresses it experienced during the shuttle Columbia's catastrophic breakup Feb. 1 and the recorder's long fall back to Earth. Engineers are increasingly optimistic about recovering potentially valuable data from the salvaged tape that could shed additional light on the aerodynamic forces and temperatures the shuttle experienced during its final minutes.


Columbia's OEX recorder was recovered in Texas. Photo: CAIB
 
"They're taking a great deal of care with it," said Bradley Allen, a spokesman for Imation Corp., a Minnesota company that specializes in data storage and recovery. "My understanding is at least visually, it came in in fairly good condition, considering what the device went through."

The so-called OEX recorder was located last week by search crews walking a grid near Hemphill, Texas. It was found slightly embedded in soft ground and while the case showed signs of damage, it appeared to be surprisingly intact.

The recorder was shipped to Imation Friday for initial inspection. Imation engineers opened the OEX recorder over the weekend and first removed unrecorded tape from the supply reel to gain experience handling the material. They then removed the recorded tape on the takeup reel and began cleaning it by hand.

The tape will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center Tuesday, where it will be copied. Only then will engineers begin the process of playing back whatever data might be present.

Unlike the reel-to-reel recorders familiar to audiophiles, those with side-by-side takeup and supply reels, the OEX recorder features two large reels stacked on top of each other. The lower supply reel plays out tape when the machine is activated and after data is encoded, the tape is wound onto the upper takeup reel.

The OEX tape separated, or broke, between the supply and takeup reels, but engineers say the amount of tape seen on the takeup reel indicates the recorder began operating as planned roughly 15 minutes before Columbia's descent began.


Another view of the OEX recorder. Photo: CAIB
 
Columbia was the only shuttle equipped with an OEX recorder. Columbia was NASA's first space shuttle and as such, it was more heavily instrumented than subsequent orbiters to provide essential test flight data.

While NASA already has telemetry from Columbia that was beamed back to Earth in realtime during the shuttle's descent, the OEX recorder was designed to store data from hundreds of other sensors, providing direct measurements of temperature, vibration, dynamic pressure and other forces during launch and re-entry.

Assuming the tape holds readable data, NASA investigators hope to gain potentially crucial new insights about Columbia's final minutes. At the very least, officials say, the OEX data should help investigators validate, or confirm, the realtime telemetry already in hand, which in some cases was garbled during transmission.

The OEX recorder carried 9,400 feet of 1-inch-wide 28-track magnetic tape. The device operates at 15 inches per second - 75 feet per minute - and can hold two hours worth of data. NASA officials say the recorder was activated 15 minutes before Columbia's re-entry began, or around 8 a.m. on Feb. 1. The recorder presumably ran until vehicle breakup a few seconds past 9 a.m.

But at least some of the tape near the point where it separated between the takeup and supply reels is too damaged for any data recovery. That lost data presumably covered the very final seconds of entry just prior to breakup.

Apollo 12 tribute DVD set

New! Featuring the jovial crew of Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon and Alan Bean, the Apollo 12 mission was struck by lightning shortly after liftoff but proceeded on the second successful exploration voyage to the lunar surface. This three-disc DVD brings the mission to life with extraordinary detail.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Fallen Heroes special patch
This special 12-inch embroidered patch commemorates the U.S. astronauts who made the ultimate sacrifice, honoring the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Women in Space
Women of Space: Cool Careers on the Final Frontier is for girls, young women, and anyone else interested in learning about exciting careers in space exploration. Includes CD-ROM.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Mars rover poster
This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
 Choose your store:
U.S.

ERROR: Random File Unopenable

ERROR: Random File Unopenable

The random file, as specified in the $random_file perl variable was unopenable.

The file was not found on your file system. This means that it has either not been created or the path you have specified in $trrandom_file is incorrect.
Hubble Calendar
NEW! This remarkable calendar features stunning images of planets, stars, gaseous nebulae, and galaxies captured by NASA's orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.
 U.S. STORE
 U.K. & WORLDWIDE STORE

Get e-mail updates
Sign up for our NewsAlert service and have the latest news in astronomy and space e-mailed direct to your desktop (privacy note: your e-mail address will not be used for any other purpose).

Enter your e-mail address:

Hubble Posters
Stunning posters featuring images from the Hubble Space Telescope and world-renowned astrophotographer David Malin are now available from the Astronomy Now Store.
 U.S. STORE
 U.K. & WORLDWIDE STORE

Earth Calendar
NEW! This amazing 2003 calendar features stunning images of mountain ranges, volcanoes, rivers, and oceans obtained from previous NASA space shuttle missions.
 U.S. STORE
 U.K. & WORLDWIDE STORE

Soviet Space
For the first time ever available in the West. Rocket & Space Corporation Energia: a complete pictorial history of the Soviet/Russian Space Program from 1946 to the present day all in full color. Available from our store.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Viking patch
This embroidered mission patch celebrates NASA's Viking Project which reached the Red Planet in 1976.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Apollo 7 DVD
For 11 days the crew of Apollo 7 fought colds while they put the Apollo spacecraft through a workout, establishing confidence in the machine what would lead directly to the bold decision to send Apollo 8 to the moon just 2 months later.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

Gemini 12
Gemini 12: The NASA Mission Reports covers the voyage of James Lovell and Buzz Aldrin that capped the Gemini program's efforts to prove the technologies and techniques that would be needed for the Apollo Moon landings. Includes CD-ROM.
 Choose your store:
U.S. - U.K. - E.U. - Worldwide

An insider's view of how Apollo flight controllers operated and just what they faced when events were crucial.
 Choose your store:
U.S.


INDEX | PLUS | NEWS ARCHIVE | LAUNCH SCHEDULE
ASTRONOMY NOW | STORE

ADVERTISE

© 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.