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Space Science

Help Solve the Mystery of the Pioneer Anomaly 473

deglr6328 writes "Very soon, NASA will be dismantling and scrapping its only computer left which is able to access and process the data on its ancient 7- and 9-track magnetic tapes. "Who cares", you say? Well, the Planetary Society for one and they're hoping you might care as well. The data held on these (few hundred) tapes is no ordinary forgettable data, it is the complete archive of the first 15 years of all the data returned to Earth by the Pioneer spacecraft which were sent into interstellar space. This additional and thus far unexamined data (the data after 1988 is available and has already been examined) may hold the key to solving what is considered one of the top problems in physics today, the so called Pioneer anomaly, where the observed trajectory of these spacecraft (and a couple others) deviates noticeably from our very precise expectation. The reason for the anomaly may be as mundane as uneven radiation pressure or escaping thruster fuel or it may be as groundbreaking as a clue to completely new physics, perhaps related to dark matter or dark energy. The Planetary Society is planning on recovering this data and poring over it meticulously to look for something which may have been missed or hidden from current investigations into the phenomenon. They need money to do this, about $250,000, and are asking for donations to fund the project. You do not need to be a member to donate. There are no serious proposals to send any more spin-stabilized spacecraft on solar escape trajectories any time in the near future and this is probably the only tenable method we have to directly investigate this mystery in the interim."
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Help Solve the Mystery of the Pioneer Anomaly

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  • 1.Deviate spacecrafts from their precisely-planned flightpaths
  • by Psionicist ( 561330 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @10:57AM (#13156280)
    The damn thing only supported DVD-R discs, not DVD+R, that's why it didn't work.
  • I can help (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @10:57AM (#13156282)
    I have an 8-track deck in my Charger...
  • by yotto ( 590067 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @10:58AM (#13156294) Homepage
    I'm not making a joke. Can't they just rip the tapes to a hard drive? This isn't Star Wars where you can't copy the "data tapes" after all.
    • by scsirob ( 246572 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @10:59AM (#13156314)
      There's hardly any hardware available to read these tapes anymore. Proprietary format, ancient tape drives and undocumented data formats make this a huge problem.
      • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:12AM (#13156452)
        Surely considering the priceless data on these tapes, I'm sure they could hire engineers to rebuild the original tape readers, perhap with modern heads to account for magnetic fading.

        Frankly, I've worked for companies that paid a great deal of money to save their software assets that were stored on old, seemingly unreadable media (a shitload of Digital Research files, the recovery cost us $50k), and that data wasn't even close to the value of the Pioneer probe data. If that's what stops NASA from salvaging that data, somebody needs to be fired there...
      • But how huge? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by John Harrison ( 223649 ) <[johnharrison] [at] []> on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:14AM (#13156465) Homepage Journal
        For instance, how much data is there? I've read some of the linked articles and I can't find any estimate of how many MB there might be. I would guess that there isn't a massive amount of data simply because the thing was designed within the limits of 1970s technology and they had to be able to record the data as it was coming in.

        Also, I would be shocked if NASA didn't document any of the file formats used. I've worked on a NASA project and they are all about documentation. In fact, I was writing a system used to document the shuttle booster production process.

        • But did they document where to find the important parts in those huge amounts of documentation?
        • Re:But how huge? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by pilgrim23 ( 716938 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:53AM (#13156742)
          Several years ago my father (who is a retired research scientist) commented that he had the cumulative data of some 7 years of research in a obsolete database system (MUMPS) on a 9 track tape squirreled away in his office closet...He really would have liked to look at that data, but no drive was available to read it.
          Thanks to the Internet, and one international mail list I was a member of, I found a wonderful lady at a government data center who was willing to copy the data to a modern medium. And, it was a good thing I put in my request when I did; their one remaining 9 track tape drive was being decommissioned the next month!
          A quick visit to the the UPS fairy and the tape was on its way. A week later I get an email to check a particular ftp for a tar ball and there it was: 30 mbs. - 7 years of research; a mere blip on a modern jump drive......
          Dad was delighted. That data is now on CD, 4 separate hard drives in 2 physical locations, and even an actual paper printout.
      • The problem is probably less to do with the need for a 9 track
        and more to do with the physical quality of the tape. They
        tend to basically turn to dust because they are so brittle and
        require special handling if they can be used at all
    • It should be possible to just load the tapes on by one, run them through the master program which was designed for it, and use some IO port, probably serial, to capture the (extremely slow) bitstream.
    • The largest part of the cost does not come from recovering the data (although that will be costly), it is from the cost to actually analyze the data and perform any necessary calculations. Despite the current economic conditions, PhD's don't work cheap, at least, not the ones with the required skill sets for this analysis. Additionally, the storage cost is going to be a bit in and of itself. I am not sure of the density and capacity of the tapes NASA used, but 15 years worth of every useful piece of data
    • by gclef ( 96311 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:26AM (#13156558)
      One thing to consider: old tape is fragile. I worked with audio tape for years, and tape older than 10 years had to be literally baked (heated & cooled again) before playing. If you didn't bake an old tape the filings from the tape would slough off onto the reading might (if you were lucky) get one play out of an unbaked tape, but the audio on the tape would definitely be destroyed.

      Given the age of these tapes, getting the data off without destroying it is not as simple as just slapping it onto the machine & hitting "play."
      • re: tape baking (Score:4, Interesting)

        by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:47AM (#13156688) Journal
        As far as I understand it, this need to bake tapes to resuce them was only an issue because of a specific type of "binder" glue used in their original production. I believe Maxell was one of the companies responsible for using what turned out to be poor binder, between a certain set of production years, for example.

        That's why you'll see plenty of people having no problem playing back 20+ year old tapes, yet others have huge problems.
    • 1. Chances are good that this is a labor intensive process. It's is likely slow, and the number of tapes and age of the equipment means jamming.

      2. Note that the 'society' wants to get 1/4 million not just for the data conversion, but also a fund to study the data.

      Quite frankly I might donate if it were simply to convert the data and make it publicly available. Note that they won't release the data until after it has been analyzed, and give no definite timeframe (months to a year).

      Not that I'm aga
  • Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pair-a-noyd ( 594371 )
    This additional and thus far unexamined data

    Let me be the first to say WTF?!!

    This is inexcusable.
    It's insane to throw this project out the window..
    I hope people will step up to the plate on this. I for one will..

    • I too will be donating to this project. But I really do have to ask... why has this not been done already? My first WTF moment of the week, and it's only 10:00 AM on Monday.
  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @10:59AM (#13156309) Journal
    That those several hundred tapes will fit on a $10 USB key? That's what 128 or 256MB these days?

    • Yes, they most likely will fit. Now please invent a time machine and yourself back to the 1960's so you can have them install a USB port, preferably USB 2.0, on the computers for the Pioneer project. See, all the problems are solved!
      • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:19AM (#13156498) Journal
        Actually it shoulnd't be that hard... as an embedded software engineer, i would say run the signal from the tape head to a DAC (if analog) and just write out the data the same way a wav file is written. When you "write out" the data, you only need to signal the USB serial protocol which would wrap the (analog?) data. The actual mediaum for USB data is a differential pair of wires. Some micro geek with tape reading experience could probably build a tape -to-usb reader for a few bucks. You wouldn't even need a USB tranceiver, though it probably would make it much, much easier.

        All in all, remmeber you only have to take some data and wrap it in a protocol that is expressed on a differential pair. Not that hard...
      • It is possible that some tech team at NASA back in the late 80's proposed a project to convert the data from the old format to the newer (and on it's way to becoming prevalent) IBM or MAC PC format?

        I just don't get it, here we have an agency full of engineers, and no one could think, "hey wouldn't it be cool to look at the data on a PC/Mac, a UNIX machine, or an IBM Mainframe?".

        It's a shame, becuase more than likely most of the engineers involved with the original pioneer project would have been alive and
    • Actually, I'd bet quite a bit.

      A 2400 foot reel of 6250 bpi 9-track tape contains about 160 MB, given large block size. If they're the 3490 type tapes, each cartridge can hold as much as 1600MB. Block size is important because there's an inter-block gap on the tapes that is essentially wasted space, and the more blocks, the more waste.

  • If... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fimbulvetr ( 598306 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @10:59AM (#13156311)
    If we donate, and they reach the amount, will the data be open to everyone?
    That is absolutely critical, I will not donate unless I can see the data.
    • RTFF (Score:5, Informative)

      by spellraiser ( 764337 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:05AM (#13156374) Journal
      From the FAQ []:

      Will the data be made publicly available?
      Yes. First, the data first must be recovered, validated, documented, and preliminary analyses must be done. After those tasks are completed (probably taking months to a year), the data will be made publicly available, including second-order data products when the raw data is processed by JPL orbit software.

      • Re:RTFF (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Otter ( 3800 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:19AM (#13156499) Journal
        Thanks for pulling that out. It seems to me, though, that the key part is:
        Why does it cost $250,000 to recover the data? This seems like a lot.

        This amount enables us first to save the data from destruction, and then to support the complex analyses necessary to solve this mystery. We may well have to bring in more help from other eminent "celestial mechanicians" to provide fresh perspectives on the anomaly.

        Before giving them a cent, I'd really like to know a) how much the data retrieval costs and b) whether it really can't be done by EDS or someone else accustomed to dealing with ancient data files. I'm certainly not donating for them to "may well have to bring in more help".
        • Re:RTFF (Score:3, Insightful)

          What's the point in recovering the data if they can't analyze it after they get it? The purpose of the project is to figure out why these space craft are not on the precise trajectories they have calculated -- it's not simply the gathering of old data.
          • Re:RTFF (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:50AM (#13156703) Homepage
            Yes, but the only urgent part of this project is recovering the data.

            In theory for far less you could simply recover the data, test that it was recovered properly, and then stick it on a webpage for anybody in the world to analyze.

            Their proposal is to solve the secrets of the universe for $250k. I might suggest that maybe the goal should be to simply transfer the data for $10k, and let somebody else pay for solving the secrets of the universe. The data recovery project is also far more likely to be successful...
            • Re:RTFF (Score:5, Informative)

              by DrJimbo ( 594231 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @01:40PM (#13157727)
              Rich0 said:
              Yes, but the only urgent part of this project is recovering the data.

              In theory for far less you could simply recover the data, test that it was recovered properly, and then stick it on a webpage for anybody in the world to analyze.

              TFF said:
              Will the data be made publicly available? Yes. First, the data first must be recovered, validated, documented, and preliminary analyses must be done. After those tasks are completed (probably taking months to a year), the data will be made publicly available, including second-order data products when the raw data is processed by JPL orbit software.
              I am a scientist and I have worked on analyzing large data sets such as this before. The tricky part is what you describe as "test that it was recovered properly". This is what TFF described as "preliminary analyses".

              It would be foolish for a programmer to publish a program on the web without first running it a few times to catch bugs. In the same way, a scientist must check her data (even "raw" data) before just blindly putting it up on the web for all to see. If she posts faulty data then she wastes everyone's time, she looks like a fool and pisses a lot of people off. Her reputation may be ruined.

              But how can she know for sure that the data was recovered properly? Checking parity bits is not nearly enough, because she needs to know for sure that she did not make any subtle mistakes and that no one in the chain of generating and producing the data made any subtle mistakes.

              One necessary (but not sufficient) step is to actually analyze the data with your model(s) and see if it makes sense. If it doesn't, then you may need correct your transcription procedure and go back to the original tapes and read them again.

              Transferring the data for $10K and not doing the preliminary analysis would be foolish beyond belief. I think a better cost estimate is roughly $100K for the transfer(s) and preliminary analysis needed to ensure the transfer was done properly. Since everything would already be set up to analyze the data it makes perfect sense to also get another $100K to do the "real" analysis. Since something may well go wrong, ask for another $50K so you can be reasonably sure of getting it done right in the first go round.

      • Rather qualified (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Richard W.M. Jones ( 591125 ) <rich.annexia@org> on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:22AM (#13156527) Homepage

        First, the data first must be recovered, validated, documented, and preliminary analyses must be done. After those tasks are completed (probably taking months to a year),

        Why not publish the data immediately, and qualify and expand it as they go along?


        • by terrymr ( 316118 ) <> on Monday July 25, 2005 @12:22PM (#13156988)
          Probably because publishing 10010100101001010100101001010100101010101001 .... isn't going to help you a whole lot without knowledge of where you are in the data stream, what instrument is telling you that etc.

          The validation, documentation & preliminary analysis steps are all about taking the raw data stream and making it into a useful set of values.
    • The Planetary Society article states that all data retrieved will be made publicly-available.
  • by Blitzenn ( 554788 ) * on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:00AM (#13156317) Homepage Journal
    What and miss a great opportunity for a wonderful conspiracy theory in the future?

    "They destroyed those things so we wouldn't know what it REALLY found. I know they did! Why else would they destroy them. It must be a conspiracy!"
  • Free money? (Score:4, Funny)

    by ActionJesus ( 803475 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:00AM (#13156326)
    You do not need to be a member to donate.

    Just as well, i was away to send a million pounds but thought "oh no! im not a member! theyll never accept my non-space-geek cash!"

  • Funding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fejikso ( 567395 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:01AM (#13156330) Homepage
    $250,000 sounds like very little money compared to other NASA projects. Why can't my tax dollars go to these projects instead of the military?
    • Re:Funding TP (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Camel Pilot ( 78781 )
      Yep, the military probably spends $250,000 for just ass wipe per day in Iraq.
    • I'm sorry, that's classified.
    • Re:Funding (Score:3, Informative)

      by RexRhino ( 769423 )
      Because that is not how taxes work! If they were going to spend the money on something you really wanted or needed, they wouldn't have to forcefully extract the money from you at gunpoint, now would they? You would give it voluntarily (like people are going to do for the Planetary Society and this project).
  • Why the deviance? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:01AM (#13156341) Homepage Journal
    Do all of these spacefaring craft differ from their expected trajectories by the same factor? If so, it seems that that would mean there is some as-yet unknown, pervasive force that exerts itself more-or-less evenly in the area that these craft have traveled.

    If the difference of their expected trajectories have no commonality, it would seem to mean either some new force is affecting the craft differently, or each craft has its own mechanical explanation as to why they aren't staying the course.

    Do *none* of these craft follow the expected trajectory? If not, then we really can't be sure whether this is a collection of mechanical issues or various effects of the unknown force. If one or two craft followed course perfectly, I would be inclined to say that the rest have mechanical issues knocking them off course.

    • Right. Briefly:
      Is there a Voyager anomaly?
      • Re:Why the deviance? (Score:5, Informative)

        by mollymoo ( 202721 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:23AM (#13156534) Journal
        Is there a Voyager anomaly?

        Perhaps. We don't know because Voyager, like most other spacecraft, is 3-axis stabilised. That means it keeps pointed the right way using only its thrusters. Pioneer is spin stabilised, like a rifle bullet in flight, so requires much smaller pointing corrections using thrusters. The anomaly is a very slight one, so slight that it is lost in the uncertainty caused by the level of thruster activity on 3-axis stabilised craft.

    • Re:Why the deviance? (Score:5, Informative)

      by tgrimley ( 585067 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:06AM (#13156394) Homepage
      from the wikipedia [] link:

      "When all known forces acting on the spacecraft are taken into consideration, a very small but unexplained force remains. It causes a constant sunwards acceleration of (8.74 ± 1.33) × 10^-10 m/s2 for both spacecraft.


      "Data from the Galileo and Ulysses spacecraft are also indicative of a similar effect, although for various reasons (such as their relative proximity to the Sun) firm conclusions cannot be drawn from these sources."
  • 9 track tapes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wulfhound ( 614369 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:02AM (#13156344)
    Anyone care to shed any further light on what format these tapes are in, how many there are and in what condition?

    I had a summer job a decade ago ripping 9-track tapes (geophys data) to CD-R (back when CD-Rs were $20 each and a burner was $5k!), pretty sure the people I did it for still have the gear. Planetary guys - I couldn't see a contact address on your page!

  • This is clearly very important data which it would be criminal to just throw away. It's taken 30 years and god knows how much money to gather it all. So why doesn't NASA care about it? Is it putting all it's money into manned exploration (shuttle replacement, Mars, etc.)?
  • So in short (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:06AM (#13156392)
    The Planetary Society is planning on recovering this data and poring over it meticulously to look for something which may have been missed or hidden from current investigations into the phenomenon. They need money to do this, about $250,000, and are asking for donations to fund the project.

    Let me sum up: the USA boldly sends a probe in space, at a very great cost to taxpayers. Some decades later, NASA is forced to scrap the only computer that can access the unique (and very expensive) data collected by said probe, because the administration refuses to fund them properly.

    That's sad enough, but the saddest thing is: a bunch of passionate guys (the planetary society) are begging a measly quarter million bucks to save that priceless data, and the administration just stands there! That's like the cost of running a humvee for a week in Iraq or something. How does that look to the outside world? like a decrepit country where non-profit orgs are forced to take matters into their own hands to save their national treasures. Well done USA :-(
    • Re:So in short (Score:3, Interesting)

      Let me sum up: the USA boldly sends a probe in space, at a very great cost to taxpayers. Some decades later, NASA is forced to scrap the only computer that can access the unique (and very expensive) data collected by said probe, because the administration refuses to fund them properly.

      Actually, Congress allocates funding for NASA and thus is responsible for the lack of funds. You should contact your local Senate and House representatives if you wish to continue research in this area.

      However, please

    • Re:So in short (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CheshireCatCO ( 185193 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @12:06PM (#13156845) Homepage
      Except that most of the useful data from the missions have been saved in other formats by now. I can go to the planetary data system and pull up a lot of Pioneer data right now if I wanted to.

      Not every data bit is equally valuable. In this case, the data was probably not originally considered very interesting so wasn't moved at the time. The fact that NASA hasn't copied the data already suggests to me that people near research didn't think that that data would be very helpful in the first place. So while I wish that they'd transfered the data long ago and I applaude the Planetary Society, I am not convinced that this is a horrible failing on NASA's part.
  • Lots of other data (Score:5, Interesting)

    by couch_warrior ( 718752 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:11AM (#13156434)
    If you think this data loss would be unfortunate, you should check out the Earth Resource Observing Satellite (EROS) Data Center run by the US Geological Survey in Sioux Falls South Dakota. For years NASA has been dumping all manner of data tapes there. 9-track, 24-track, literally hundreds of Terabytes of data. And many of those tapes are literally growing mold, sitting in boxes and racks in the basement, for lack of funding to transfer them to more permanent media.
    Think about it, decades of climate data , going back to the 1970's, is being lost due to lethargy on the part of Clowngress. Or is it lethargy.
    Let's see, three and a half decades of climate change data, detailed and explicit. Hmmmm.... who *wouldn't* want that data placed online where researchers could access it? I wonder.....
  • Why not? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by quark007 ( 765762 )
    Why is there a big hoopla about Planetary society raising meager $250,000?

    You need money to carry out research.
    NASA obviously doesn't care much about basic sciences, and is quite busy wasting tax dollars [] in 'spectacular' but dumb and useless shuttle launches.

    Planetary society is atleast trying to make some sense. Why not help them?
    • Re:Why not? (Score:3, Informative)

      by DerekLyons ( 302214 )

      Why is there a big hoopla about Planetary society raising meager $250,000? You need money to carry out research. NASA obviously doesn't care much about basic sciences, and is quite busy wasting tax dollars in 'spectacular' but dumb and useless shuttle launches.

      NASA cares plenty about basic science - and the basic science these tapes were meant to accomplish was accomplished decades ago. (In fact a great deal of both the data and the science is available on the web.) What TPS wants to do is 'extended

  • by Colin Douglas Howell ( 670559 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:17AM (#13156489)
    Does anyone have any idea what these machines are or whether they can be saved from the scrapper?

    As for the data, a lot of people here seem to be really naive about how hard it is to recover old data like this. "Just download it onto a hard disk." Well, yeah, but the trick is getting working 9-track drives (relatively easy) and 7-track drives (much harder) and going through the effort required to ensure you get the data off successfully instead of destroying it. (Remember, these tapes are very old and probably extremely fragile, and you may only get one shot at recovering the data.)

  • Yes, it's not a lot of cash in the scheme of things,
    but why the hell won't NASA just donate the computer and tapes to a university? If they're going to toss it in the trash, they should be interested in giving it away for free. Put the data on the Web for all, and we're done. In fact NASA themselves should be able to do this inside of a week or two, presumably they know how to read these tapes themselves..
    I don't see where anyone needs to raise $250K..??
    Please explain yourselves, planetary society types..
  • It is insane that NASA can spend billions on several years of exploding and cancelled Shuttle launches, including millions putting talking NASA heads on TV, but can't spend $250K to recover that invaluable Voyager data. It costs more than $250K for NASA just to throw away the old machines! It's obvious from stunts like this that NASA is primarily a welfare job for aerospace contractors, and secondarily a mask for military Star Wars missions. Way down the list, below "take out the garbage", is "science".
  • Frame dragging (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CarlJagt ( 877688 )
    Easy, its frame dragging on a large, solar system scale. We only see hints of it now because of the large distances the Pioneers have travelled.


  • Geez, first of all, matter IS energy. This has been proven over Bikini, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, etc.

    Secondly, it's only "dark" because we can't see it. Obviously, if it's there, but we haven't observed it yet, it's "dark matter." There is nothing inherently unique about it. We're just not omniscient.
  • by jbottoms ( 902475 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:37AM (#13156616)
    These tapes should be readable on any midrange or mainframe. I own a Pr1me computer which should serve the purpose. Contactinformation is below: Jeffrey Bottoms, 4405 Pease #3, Houston, TX 77023
  • by i41Overlord ( 829913 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:40AM (#13156642)
    First of all, why would NASA have years worth of data coming in from a spacecraft they launched, and NOT have analysed it? I find this very hard to believe. Also, if they thought this information held valuable clues to a puzzling scientific mystery, they would have surely looked into it. In addition, how can this tape player be the only one on Earth that can read these tapes?

    I think that the issue is being distorted and blown out of proportion. I have a feeling that someone wanted to further their pet cause and they didn't mind letting pesky facts get in their way.

  • I'm not surprised that NASA was unable to develop funding to convert / analyze this data. After working with them for a few years, and with the 'Military Industrial Complex" for more than that, I can clearly say:
    "If it isn't in the requirements document, it's not going to get done, no matter how simple or beneficial it is."

    I worked on a project back in the early 80's. We were launching missles on a test range. I was responsible for the telemetry recording. We used a massive Honeywell tape drive and a bunch of telemetry circuitry to record at 1MHz. After designing the circuitry to measure and feed the data (all analog, BTW) to the drives, I asked my boss where the specs were for the circuitry to read the data back off the tapes for analysis.

    I was told there wasn't any. It wasn't a requirement. And I had better leave it at that. I kind of freaked- how the hell can we spend $100K in hardware and time to record tapes that can never, ever be read ?

    The answer ? It was basically butt covering. If something happened they would ask the gummint to fund a project to read the data off the tapes.

    I went ahead and designd and built a playback system on the side, nights and weekends. We went ahead and launched missles. We had guidance failures. I was asked to read the tapes. I pulled out my breadboarded setup, and read the tapes. The project team was happy, problems were solved, etc.

    And I was put on the next layoff list for 'failing to obey orders'. So I got a better job, and quit before the axe fell (large defense contractor axes fell sloowly back then- lots of little clerk types had to spent their quality time with each piece of paper).

    The Moral ? Never underestimate the stupidity of large organizations- governmental or otherwise.
  • 250k isn't that much. Apply with an academic to a funding council/EU Framework 6 (hint: section 4)/etc etc or something. Or get the money out of Lockheed Martin (they could do with some PR) or Microsoft etc. This isn't really the sort of thing that requires a public appeal IMHO, its a 250k tax write-off for someone who'll be glad of the opportunity.

    Perhaps I'm missing something special about this?
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @11:57AM (#13156774) Journal
    ...this? Get your damn wallet out!
  • This is a problem... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Siener ( 139990 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @12:01PM (#13156801) Homepage
    Danny Hillis of the Long Now Foundation [] has been pointing out these kinds of problems for years.

    Most types of digital storage is not good for conserving data in the long run. Hardware changes. File formats change. Most digital media have a very limited lifetime.

    As an example: We have a very good record of the letters that Greek philosophers wrote to each other 2000 years ago. On the other had there's loads of important research data from the early days of computing that's already lost forever.
  • Some background... (Score:5, Informative)

    by ear1grey ( 697747 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @12:09PM (#13156871) Homepage
    This paper [] reviews the current status of the anomaly and describes how the Pioneer data could help. It may be a bit math-intensive for some, but the words surrounding the sums do pull them all into focus.
  • ...and the situation is as follows:
    • The data used to be stored on magnetic tape. When the tape started deteriorating, all the data was archived off onto then state-of-the-art MO disks.
    • The machine used was a MicroVAX with a DEC RWZ21 SCSI MO drive, which is apparently quite rare. The disks are 128MB each.
    • For Pioneer 10, there are 155 disks, making 19840 MB of data.
    • For Pioneer 11, there are 217 disks, making 27776 MB of data.
    • Each disk takes about 10 minutes to read to the MicroVAX, and then more time to move across onto a real computer, of course.

    I would have happily volunteered to spend a couple of days swapping disks in order to salvage all this lot, but alas, I'm the wrong side of the Atlantic. The guy in charge has recently been made redundant, and he was desperate to find someone to hand off all this to... but there's incredible beaurocracy. (I gather all the data was actually supposed to have been destroyed some years ago, but through some 'oversight' hadn't been.)

    Alas, I don't have permission to publish his address, but I'll put him in touch with the Planetary Society on the off chance he doesn't know about this.

    Interestingly, for years he ran the Pioneer spacecraft off a Mac Quadra 950! Check out the screen shots []...

  • by telstar ( 236404 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @12:31PM (#13157076)
    Only it was from the Nigerian Planetary Society, and they promised a return on my investment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 25, 2005 @02:00PM (#13157960)
    Nine track tapes were an industry standard for a LONG time. Finding drives to read them isn't that big a deal. I've got about six of them. One of which is connected to a Linux box right here, for the purpose of writing boot tapes for my PDP-11. SCSI MO drives aren't hard to find either. I've got several, and they turn up often. There are lots of people out there in the computer collecting community with VAXen and MO drives and tape drives of all sorts. I hear often of people that can't find a machine "anywhere" to read their old data. They apparently don't look too hard. There are several mailing lists and newsgroups of computer collectors, and it wouldn't be hard to find someone to help you recover your data. Us computer collectors love to have someone _else_ think that our hardware is useful. <grin>

    And, if NASA is getting rid of an archaic machine and drives - someone should save it! There are LOTS of collectors out there, lots of hardware hackers and geeks like myself that love working on old machines, and could keep the machine operational and help transfer data.

    In other words, yes, there is still a way to get data read in, even if you're sure that the media is too obsolete that nobody has a working drive. Nine track tapes, Magneto Optical, 8" floppies, Bernoulli cartridges, TK50 CompacTapes, QIC cartridges, MFM hard drives, SyQuest cartridges, paper tape, punched cards... The hardware is piled up all over the place, in the basements and bedrooms of people like me. Wether it's as common as a Commodore 64 5 1/4" floppy or as exotic as an Exatron Stringy Floppy or a 1600BPI nine track tape, chances are you can find someone with the machine and willing to help you.
  • by intelsquirrel ( 877995 ) on Monday July 25, 2005 @02:14PM (#13158113)
    Here are some links published on another group about this same topic, and all data that NASA knows about is already saved.

    > sc=1972-012A&ds=* []
    > sc=1973-019A&ds=* []

    >Well, well, looks like every bit of Pioneer 10 and 11 has been saved already, and can be accessed thru the proper channels (on tape, but apparently they will burn a CDROM on request).

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard