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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.
    • I think this is a valid question. I'm looking to trade in a computer (and keep the HDD inside) to increase the resale value. There seems to be conflicting information and the 40 over-write techniques, depending on the drive, algorithm etc. might not erase all the information. This seems to be, in part, because even when erased the head might not overwrite the same spot the data was on.

      That said, I usually chuck out HDDs after I give it some serious abuse and a couple of wipes using some software. I'm not co
    • Re:Yup... (Score:5, Informative)

      by VMaN ( 164134 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:30PM (#23328430) Homepage
      Here is a picture for you: []

      I'm pretty sure it's the one from the shuttle..
    • Re:Yup... (Score:5, Informative)

      by onescomplement ( 998675 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:58PM (#23328826)
      I've used OnTrack numerous times and they really know their stuff. I know there are other recovery services out there but these folks have earned my business.

      Basically, you pay a bench fee to get the drive examined, and then they send you the costs for recovery - for a desktop HD $500-$1500 depending on the problem. The cool part is that they send you a manifest of the recoverable files/directories so you can make an informed decision.

      And they _can_ perform miracles. Including dealing with bent platters. Just depends on what you want to pay.

      I must say it's been a great instructional tool for people who've neglected backups. They become wild operational militants after these episodes.

      Just remember that the ONLY way to ensure data cannot be recovered on a HD is to raise the drive temp past the Curie Point for the magnetics. (A charcoal BBQ works really well for this. Just pull the electronics and wrap the drive in heavy foil unless you like the smell of roasted phenolic.)

      Even if you "format" a drive it means that the waveforms coming off the heads can be interpreted as a certain, predictable value - but also remember that at root, it's an analog system and so artifacts from the prior contents are around, it's just a question of finding and interpreting them... That's why the DoD and other "erase" things are so comprehensive. Trying to obliterate all artifacts.

  • by catdevnull ( 531283 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:19PM (#23328238)
    I will probably never use the term "crash" to describe a hard drive failure again.

    I'll bet Ontrack made a fortune off of this recovery, too.
    • 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.)
      • by joeytmann ( 664434 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:41PM (#23328580)
        Ontrack has been doing this type of recovery for years. A couple of times I have asked for quotes, just to even look at the drive was like $1,000US. Can't remember how much it was per MB to retrieve the data. I know they have recovered data for machines lost in hurricane andrew, servers sitting in water for months. They were in Kuwait after the 91 gulf war recovering systems there. I think the only way to not have Ontrack recover a drive is to literally melt the platters.
      • 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.
      • Not to mention that this is also great publicity for Seagate.

  • by greyspectre ( 1114091 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:19PM (#23328242)
    Their server is shooting flames as I type this, but they have the technology to recover their site!
  • that's server can be recover their files after this /. article. :P
  • Those are some serious mounting brackets holding that drive in place. Quarter inch bolts? That's ridiculous.
    • 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.
    • They mention that it's mounted to a cold-plate. My guess is that without airflow (these experiments are in sealed canisters, not sure if there's normal air, nitrogen, dry air, or some other medium in there), there's not much opportunity for cooling. The thick bolts and metal might be to conduct as much heat away from the drive as possible.

      It might not just be for the drive's sake, it's possible that this experiment was temperature sensitive as well.
  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn ( 1126837 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:23PM (#23328318)
    Wow! They recovered 400MB of data when all they had to work with was "500 Internal Server Error"?! Unbelievable!!!
  • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:24PM (#23328332)
    So someone put together a story on spectacular hard disk failure, space shuttle, physic experiments and heroic success, and decided to host this on anything less than an industrial-strength web server? The only thing that could have made for a quicker or larger slashdotting would be if somehow it also involved big guns and Natalie Portman (with hot grits, petrified).

    Seriously people. Show some foresight here. At least the editors should have shown some mercy.

    Soooo.... anyone got a coral cache of it?
  • another link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bazards ( 1081167 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:25PM (#23328344) Homepage
  • I don't know if this would qualify for that simply because the article doesn't show what the platter(s) looked like after the accident. I'm sure the drive was under tremendous stresses, but I would be surprised if they significantly exceeded that of an aircraft accident followed by fire (and I know disks are recovered in these circumstances).

    I'm not saying this to put down the skills of the data recovery team, just to say without seeing the condition of the platters with, ideally, pictures showing typical
  • by PhreakOfTime ( 588141 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:27PM (#23328382) Homepage

    Almost looks like the site is denying visits when the referer is With the below method, I was able to read the full article with no problems.

    To get in, simply copy the link in the story into a new browser window and hit enter to come into the site with no referers.

    Hope this helps

  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:29PM (#23328420) Journal
    Now look what you've done []. Wasn't it bad enough the shuttle burned up? Now you've gone and burned up the server trying to show us pictures of the mangled hard drive from the burned up shuttle.
  • Link to TFA is a 404, and clicking the homepage link returns a 500, and there were only three posts when I clicked on the article.

    Not worried about data recovery though; I make a point of using shred with -n 50 on the rare occassion that I would care if someone stole my hard drive. Other than that, most of my internet logins are stored in an encrypted kde wallet and that's good enough for me. I don't see anything on my computer as warranting an Ironkey that doesn't leave my person...
  • by Rearden82 ( 923468 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:32PM (#23328456)
    I'm amazed that it's still in one piece and recognizable.

    I've always been skeptical when a hard drive's specs mention being able to handle 300 g's. Looks like they aren't kidding.
  • 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?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by thermian ( 1267986 )
      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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Gat0r30y ( 957941 )
      For precisely the reliability issue you bring up - most anything on the shuttle has to go through > 8 years of reliability testing - before it can go up. sooo... 2003-8 = 1995. They probably could have gone with something better than 400MB's - but in 1995 did you have 1/2 gig flash storage devices? Hell in 1995 did you have 1/2 a gig of anything?
      • In addition, all space hardware usually needs to be radiation hardened. And while flash drives have shown to be astonishingly insensitive to mechanical damage, I have no idea who sensitive they are to radiation damage.
      • by dissy ( 172727 )

        but in 1995 did you have 1/2 gig flash storage devices? Hell in 1995 did you have 1/2 a gig of anything?
        Exactly. My memory of that period was that my machine bought new came with an 80mb (mega) drive, with an optional 120mb, and I purchased an external scsi 1gb quantum fireball drive, which at the time i thought was an insane amount of space i would never fill.

        A 400mb drive seems an exact fit for the time
      • Of course not, why would they? 640K was enough for anybody back then!
    • Why spend extra money on SSD when a mechanical drive will work?

      Also, would they have been able to recover the data if they have used an SSD?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dAzED1 ( 33635 )
      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.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      The experiment relied on telemetry for most of the data. The hard drive capacity was sized to hold only the data between transmissions. According to the journal article written by the scientists: A total of 370 hours of data were recorded (no data rate specified) and 85% of the data had been telemetered before the accident. The recovery allowed them to get the majority of the rest.
    • I have to wonder if that contributed to the recovery. A modern drive, with a thousand times as much data, would probably have a lot more of the data damaged.
  • by Thornburg ( 264444 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:34PM (#23328486)
    If this experiment was on Columbia, why is the image called "Challenger_drive.jpg"?

    Challenger was many years earlier...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sxltrex ( 198448 )
      The data recovered was from an experiment. I'm pretty sure they didn't have much time to perform experiments on Challenger's last flight.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Because they were/are challenged?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by PCPackrat ( 1251400 )
      Since the Challenger blew up before that kind of hard drive technology existed(1986), I'm pretty sure it's a mistake in picture naming.
    • 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...


  • ...not Columbia drive. It seems this is about another tragic shuttle incident, but not about the Columbia... Would also explain the 400MB drive capacity...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ceejayoz ( 567949 )
      Uh, 400 megabyte 3.5" hard drives in 1983? I don't think so...
    • by querist ( 97166 )
      It was the Columbia.

      The Challenger exploded on take-off. The crew never had the opportunity to conduct any experiments on that flight. (I watched the explosion happen live on TV when I was in college.)

      The Columbia, if you remember, exploded on re-entry, so the crew had time to conduct experiments.

  • by CBob ( 722532 ) [] Has a more robust site and the orig tale.
  • by jdmonin ( 124516 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:54PM (#23328760) Homepage
    For anyone curious about the actual experiment whose data was recovered:

    The abstract for the science experiment is at [] (or in the table of contents issue is [] ).

    "We measured shear thinning, a viscosity decrease ordinarily associated with complex liquids, near the critical point of xenon. The data span a wide range of reduced shear rate ... The measurements had a temperature resolution of 0.01 mK and were conducted in microgravity aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia to avoid the density stratification caused by Earth's gravity."
    • Are you involved? I remember the original CVX flew on TAS-1 about a decade ago on a Hitchhiker I was involved with. The CVX assembly was done mostly with the engineers who were in (what was then) 720.
  • Data Replication (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Spudster ( 875838 )
    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)!
  • by winphreak ( 915766 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:08PM (#23328960)
    "Product warranty is void if any seal or label is removed, or if drive experiences shock in excess of 350 Gs"
  • How hard did it hit? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Darth_brooks ( 180756 ) <clipper377@ g m> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:12PM (#23329022) Homepage
    I need a physics geek. Assume a 1kg weight, and assuming it was just "dropped" from 100,000 feet (that was roughly the altitude Columbia was at when things went sour), how fast would it have been going when it hit the ground? Obviously, this drive must have come down inside a much larger chunk of debris based on the shape it was in. I'm just wondering about how many G's it really took on impact.

    My assumption is that the drive probably wasn't going all that fast (in comparison to the 13,000 mph it was moving at on initial re-entry) when it hit.

    Of course, I wouldn't want to be standing under it when it hit the ground...
  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:13PM (#23329038) Homepage Journal
    At least the astronauts didn't die in vain. I mean, they didn't anyways since they all know there are risks, but recovering useful data from the drive adds maybe a tad more meaning to the loss.
  • Many of the results were telemetried before the crash.
  • by heroine ( 1220 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:12PM (#23329852) Homepage
    There R probably a few drives in Calif* landfills, containing your underwear size from 1988, waiting to be recovered.

  • The drive suspensions (heads) for Seagate drives are also made in Minneapolis. The parts that require a little less engineering prowess are done overseas. Ontrack has very good relations with Seagate.
  • One TOUGH DRIVE (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nonillion ( 266505 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:21PM (#23329990)
    Did anyone else notice that the drive got so hot that the head controller IC was completely de-soldered. Just goes to show that if you want a hard drive destroyed you should have it shredded. []

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents