Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project Overview

Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, Data Recovery Review Store

"February 2007 was the first time that Dennis Wingo and Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee, saw the four Ampex FM-900 tape drives, which had been stored in Nancy Evans overcrowded garage next to a chicken run. Each drive was about 6 feet tall, 3 feet wide, as deep as a refrigerator, and coated with a thick layer of dust and cobwebs. They were stored with a pallet of incomplete manuals and schematics for the tape drives, along with hard copies of data related to the lunar images. Meanwhile, the tapes were stored safely in a climate-controlled warehouse belonging to JPL. There were about 1500 tapes, all packed into boxes, stacked four deep on pallets, and shrink-wrapped . After becoming interested in the project, Wingo and Cowing spent about a year looking for funding, facilities, documentation and expertise. They found expertise in the person of Ken Zin, an Army veteran who has a lifetime of experience in working with analog tape machines, who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.

NASA was prepared to release the tapes to the custody of Wingo and Co., but they required that the tapes be stored in a government facility. Locating the tapes near Zin residence lead the team to seek out facilities at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Other advantages to the location are that Ampex, the company that built the tape drives, is still operating just 12 miles up the road, retired employees live in the area, and a collection of Ampex Corporation documentation is located at nearby Stanford University.

In April 2008, Wingo and Cowing rented two Budget trucks, loaded up the tape drives and documentation into one truck, and loaded the pallets of magnetic tape into the second. At Ames, the Lunar Science Institute had just opened, and was prepared to assist the team in finding physical facilities. Since the team required a facility with proper heating and cooling and a sink, the many vacant buildings were whittled down to two: a barber shop, and a McDonald that had closed mere weeks before they arrived. Since the barber shop was relatively small, using it would require that the tapes be stored at a remote warehouse. On the other hand, the McDonald was much larger, had good lighting, adequate power and air conditioning, excellent parking and decent bathrooms. It turned out to need some improvements such as upgraded Internet access and electrical wiring, since the installed wiring was not designed to power racks of equipment requiring 5 kW (the equivalent of fifty 100 watt light bulbs) out in the dining area."

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