Dennis Wingo: A bit delayed but we had a lot happen over the past few days, not all of it good.
We have had a bit of a setback. We have received our interim computer from Apple and it is almost the same as the final one, which alerted us to the problem, which is that the I/O bus is incompatible with the National Instruments data acquisition card that we have purchased, even though their website said it was supported. I should have looked closer and verified this. We can get a replacement card that will work but since the hardware is being shipped from Hungary, it would cause a 5-10 business day delay. This is unacceptable at this point so Austin Epps, one of our engineering students found a work around with a PCI-Express to PCI adapter (the new bus to the old bus architecture) so we have purchased this and I am putting him on a plane to San Diego to pick it up and bring it back. This is cheaper than it seems as the price for expediting this is $150 dollars shipping and handling and having him fly down there is only twice that and saves two days. So, this evening we will be able to put the new computer and the data acquisition card together. Kenneth Williams is loading the software on the computer today.
On the good news front, $50k of additional funding has been provided through Doug Comstock from the NASA IPP. This money will be used to pay for the tooling to refurbish our heads (which are somewhat different than the standard commercial heads) and to get a single head completely refurbished. To save money we are doing all of the pre-refurbish work ourselves here as the first thing that the company that is doing the refurb did when contacted, was to call Kenneth Zin, our technical lead for help!
However, this $50k brings its challenges. The head refurbishing company demands a check for 2/3rds of the cost of the tooling to begin work. Due to the way that NASA procurement works, this means that we would have a 30 day delay before being able to move forward with the head refurb. This is unacceptable to me so I made a command decision to cancel the purchase of the high end MacIntosh computer and we will keep the existing interim computer and do the initial image processing with it.
This is an easy decision to make, which saves us $10k of expenditure that we can use to pay the head refurb company right away and get reimbursed when the NASA money comes in for this task. Our image processing may happen slower but since our goal at this time is only a few images, this is not a big sacrifice. It will be ok for our other image processing as well for now. We can order the new computer after we are successful in getting our images and moving into production (should funding become available). The interim computer can then become the secondary computer to run the second drive. The head refurb is by far the highest priority
We have made a lot of progress on the machine as well this past week.
We have started the process of refurbishing the mechanical systems of the primary drive. Since the mechanics are exactly the same for all four machines, we disassembled the parts donor drives for their tape guides (pictures enclosed), capstan motor, and the reel motors. All of the bearings are 40 years old and have to be replaced. We can't do this ourselves so we took them to a house in San Francisco that does this type of work as they have the tooling to do so. We took some of the simpler parts, along with some bearings that Kenneth Zin already had, to a place in South San Jose to be replaced and we will have those back this week and placed on the machine. Since there is setup time and charges to be considered here we have taken the step of taking two sets of all of the mechanical hardware to be done at once. One will be spares and if we are funded to go forward we will just put the spare hardware on the second machine. It is critical to get the mechanics properly aligned so that the tape transport system is back to the original specifications.
We have also shipped out additional rubber parts to redco in Nevada for refurbishing/replacement. One of these is easy, as it is the rubber pads on the tape reel assemblies that the tapes rest against. The second is not so easy, as we have to get the rubber interior surface of a seamless nylon set of belts that run the motors refurbished. We sent the belts off of the parts donor machines to get them refurbed first and then when we put the new stuff on, we will send the other belts to be refurbed. This is a major concern but doable as these belts are also critical to the proper operation of the entire servo mechanical system.
We have also had success the past week (after Fedex ground's inability to find our building for four days) in obtaining a lot of schematics and technical data for the FR-900 drives. This came from a labyrinth of contacts that led us finally to the retired head of Ampex's field engineering force! He happens to have most of the information that we need on the drives in terms of schematics, parts lists, and other details. We are still missing some procedures but we are much closer to having everything that we need and worst case we can get the drive completely back to specifications with what we have. This is truly an adventure in technoarcheology in finding this data. One wonders how different our civilization would be today if we had all of the documents related to the masterful feats of Greek mechanical engineering and Roman civil engineering today. Just think of the problems that NASA is having in recreating a 40 year old technology to return to the Moon!
We have also been testing in detail the 16 heads that we have. It looks like that we have at least one additional head that can be used as a test head for our alignment procedures of the drive. We have tested and proven the known good head but do not want to use it until we are ready to put a real Lunar Orbiter tape on the drive. Kenneth Williams and Ken Zin have built test fixtures that allow the heads to be tested and the 43 year old relays on the head module to be "cleaned" by exercising them with a signal input.
We have also visited the NASA Ames surplus and have found some useful test equipment, including a rig that allows us to splice tape. We found some 19" racks for test equipment as well and some oscilliscopes. We also picked up an older MacIntosh to use as a server for the printer and our local kludged internet connection so it has been a good week on the scrounging front. Another device that we found is a reader for microfilm. We will use it to compare the images that I have on my microfilm of the Moon to guarantee a match for the analog data vs the film.
Andrew Gold, the CEO of one of the companies in the research park is going to set us up with a fat pipe internet connection gratis this week so this solves our issue of having to pay a NASA contractor $6k for what we were able to do for an $80 dollar piece of hardware.
So basically we are moving forward and working through our challenges! Lots and lots of work in a detailed manner that is necessary to bring the drives back to full operational status and get them back into their original specifications.