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Data Storage Hardware Hacking NASA Space Build Technology

Data Recovered From Space Shuttle Columbia HDD 274

WmHBlair writes "Data recovered from a 400MB Seagate hard drive carried on the Space Shuttle Columbia has been used to complete a physics experiment performed on the mission in space. The Johnson Space Center sent the recovered drive to Kroll Ontrack in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Considering the shape the drive was in (see picture in the linked article), it could indeed qualify for the 'most amazing disk data recovery ever.'" Update: 05/08 12:51 GMT by T : Reader lucas123 points out a piece at Computerworld with a series of photos of the recovered drive.
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Data Recovered From Space Shuttle Columbia HDD

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  • Yup... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Raineer ( 1002750 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:18PM (#23328218)
    Data recovery has come a long way, keep this in mind when not using proper deletion techniques! Would have been nice to see a picture of the HDD though, to get a full understanding of the recovery.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:20PM (#23328258)

    Seriously. We are talking less than a min here.

    At least the pic of the server [] is still intermittently retrievable!

  • by eln ( 21727 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:25PM (#23328342)
    I think when you're intending to launch something into space using a couple of giant rockets, you might be concerned about vibration shaking normal bolts loose.

    As for the condition of the drive, it's hard to say. The exterior was obviously fried, but it was still basically drive-shaped, and from the picture it's impossible to say how damaged the platters were. If the outside was messed up but the platters were still intact, I would think recovery would be fairly simple. Would have been nice to include a picture of the interior of the drive, or maybe even multiple pictures as they took it apart.
  • by theodicey ( 662941 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:32PM (#23328454)
    Actually, they probably did it for next to nothing, anticipating all the free press coverage they would get. This very "press hit" on slashdot is a good example of what they were aiming at. (Although in this specific case, they deserve the good press they're getting.)
  • only 400mb? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by name*censored* ( 884880 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:32PM (#23328458)
    Am I the only one who thinks that it's a little odd that they used a moving parts hard disk drive for such a paltry amount of data? (If it was solid state then it'd be a power of 2, not a round number). Surely even 2003stonauts could have managed to put together more than 400MBs in solid state, thus saving power, size and reliability?
  • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:43PM (#23328602)
    "Actually, they probably did it for next to nothing, anticipating all the free press coverage they would get. "

    Don't count on it. First off, they probably didn't even know if they could recover the data. Second, they would have no way of knowing for sure that NASA would release the information about them providing the data recovery services. Third, they very likely wouldn't have known whether or not the data (if recovered) would be used for anything in the future. Fourth, there are very strict rules about government agencies doing business where they don't pay for services, especially with potentially classified data on the drives.

    I would bet very strongly that they got well paid for this recovery.
  • Re:only 400mb? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thermian ( 1267986 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:50PM (#23328702)
    The experiment, and all the hardware, would have had to be tested and verified as viable for use in the experiment. That would have taken at least a year, if not longer.

    I would say it was likely the experiments exact hardware requirements were set in stone a year or two before launch. Flash drives are plentiful and reliable now, but may not have been deemed reliable enough at the time.

    When it comes to space, tried and tested older equipment is better. Just ask the Russians.
  • Re:Yup... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:52PM (#23328722)
    This is not actually true. Any ability to read data once the entire disk has been overwritten with random data a single time is purely theoretical -- no forensics or law enforcement group can succeed in practice.
  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:52PM (#23328736)

    I'd say that's the part that makes this impressive. Re-entry is known to be pretty darn warm. And heat will scatter magnetic domains. Heat up a magnet - it's not a magnet anymore.

    Either this HD was in the center of a ball of stuff and didn't get very hot, or Seagate has some seriously awesome engineering going on.

  • Data Replication (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Spudster ( 875838 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:56PM (#23328778)
    I'm somewhat amazed that a vehicle as well connected as the shuttle doesn't mirror its data to the ground controllers. In the event of a failure, an alternate copy of the data would exist and millions of dollars worth of experimental data wouldn't be at risk. On-track does however rock (Until you get the bill)!
  • Re:only 400mb? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dAzED1 ( 33635 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:01PM (#23328880) Journal
    it takes years before tech is put into the shuttle. The collection of tech was at one point very advanced, but the components themselves are tested for years.
  • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:05PM (#23328908)
    And, for anyone interested (and who has a subscription), here's the article in Physical Review E that describes the scientific experiment and analysis of the recovered data:
    Robert F. Berg, Michael R. Moldover, Minwu Yao, Gregory A. Zimmerli Shear thinning near the critical point of xenon [], Phys. Rev. E 77, 041116 (2008) doi 10.1103/PhysRevE.77.041116 [].

    In the article, they mention a bit about the data recovery:

    During the mission, the apparatus recorded 370 h of data, of which 85% were downlinked for real-time analysis. Fortunately, the hard disk drive was recovered from Columbia's debris in a condition that made 99% of the data available for analysis.
    Also quite interesting is an off-hand comment they make about the sample cell they used:

    Seven months after the Columbia disaster in 2003, the meniscus height was remeasured in the recovered sample cell...
    This suggests that in addition to getting the hard drive (and the data off the hard drive), the Columbia debris search also found the sample cell for their experiment, which allowed them to make some additional measurements for their data analysis. This is also quite impressive!

    The data-recovery aspect is quite interesting. So is the fundamental science. They had to run the experiment in micro-gravity to eliminate the density stratification that occurs for any liquid or gas subject to gravity. Shear thinning [] is a well-established and fairly well-understood phenomena in "complex fluids" (e.g. mixtures of solvents and polymers, like paints, lubricants, etc.); but it is quite interesting to have measured the effect in a pure one-component atomic gas. It's hard to imagine a simpler fluid, and yet it exhibits this interesting viscosity effect!

    I'm glad that this scientific experiment was salvaged from the otherwise tragic final mission of Challenger.
  • Re:First post (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:05PM (#23328910) Journal
    WTF? ColdFusion and Java? To serve a single static page?

    And is it just me, or is that a SELECT statement without a WHERE clause?
  • Re:Yup... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Daimanta ( 1140543 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:20PM (#23329122) Journal
    [citation please]
  • Re:Yup... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:27PM (#23330072) Journal
    I think the burden of proof lays on the outrageous claim, not the reasonable assertion.
  • Re:only 400mb? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tisha_AH ( 600987 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:30PM (#23330120) Journal
    Many of the science payloads are put together by universities and private corporations. The shuttle fleet frequently flies with an experiment rack.

    Experiments must fit within the constraints of the rack (power, size, cooling requirements). If you participated in any university based science programs you understand the limitations of funding. Creating a whiz-bang, cutting edge data storage technology is usually low on the list.

    The Xeon gas experiment probably had most of the work done on measurement instrumentation and software. IT hardware is off the shelf as much as possible.

    No one plans on the shuttle turning into a meteorite. I bet that the principal researcher was not going "gosh, I hope they can save my data" when they saw the pictures over central Texas.

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...