Recently in Tapes and Drives Category

Madrid Lunar Orbiter V Tapes

Dennis Wingo: Here are our Madrid Lunar Orbiter V tapes after their completion.! (h/t to James Snyder for catching the autocorrect snafu). Larger view

Magnetic Tape Drives Are Back In Style

Magnetic tape to the rescue, Economist

"The need for mass storage is reviving a technology which, only a few years ago, seemed destined for the scrapheap: magnetic tape. Tape is the oldest computer storage medium still in use. It was first put to work on a UNIVAC computer in 1951. But although tape sales have been falling since 2008 and dropped by 14% in 2012, according to the Santa Clara Consulting Group, tape's decline has now gone into reverse: sales grew by 1% in the last quarter of 2012 and a 3% rise is expected this year. Alberto Pace, head of data and storage at CERN, says that tape has four advantages over hard disks for the long-term preservation of data. The first is speed. Although it takes about 40 seconds for an archive robot to select the right tape and put it in a reader, once it has loaded, extracting data from that tape is about four times as fast as reading from a hard disk."

Reassembling a Third FR-900 Tape Drive

Dennis Wingo: This is Jacob Gold's last days with us and one of the projects that we have wanted to get done is to reassemble the third FR-900 tape drive. We are not going to try and get it working as it is a record only machine and we don't really need to record anything! However, we can use it to possibly raise money. We want to get another head and if we can get $10k of it that would be great. NOTE. This thing weighs 900 lbs when reassembled and thus we are NOT going to ship it out of the Bay area. We MIGHT ship it to LA as will fit in the back of my truck. Just a thought. And here are a couple of pictures of Jacob working on the machine today.

Priority vs Final Readout of Lunar Orbiter Images

Dennis WIngo: This image (click on image to enlarge) shows the sequence of images that were read out during what is termed "priority" readout vs the "final readout". The priority readout was an opportunistic scanning of processed photos on the lunar orbiter before all of the images were taken. The photo process with the 70mm film began with an image being simultaneously taken by the 610 mm high resolution camera and by the 80 mm medium resolution camera. In a process remarkably similar to the old polaroid dry process instamatic cameras, the film was dry processed by a "bimat" dry processor. The bimat would separate from the film (most of the time) but would sometimes due to the timing would leave artifacts on the image, which are readily identified on the film.

The film would then be fed into the readout looper where it could be scanned and the images sent back to the Earth. During the mission when photographs were still being taken the film would run one direction through the looper. After all of the images were taken a command would be sent to cut the bimat and then the film could be read in the opposite direction.

Thus when we start with a low numbered tape, the first images that come off are from the priority readout in ascending order. However, the ascending order is not linear, jumping because images are still being taken and the film advancing while the spacecraft cannot transmit. The image of the day today shows what images are taken in ascending sequence (orbit) format. You can see the jumps. If you are really good you can see what images we are recording and then predict what the next images will be ... At least during the priority readout.

LOIRP Status Report 22 July 2013

Dennis Wingo: We are running tape today. Here is a scan of a document that I am using to plan the sequence of tape runs. at the top of the page it shows the proportion of the time one ground station was in range of Lunar Orbiter V. Woomera had the majority of the time so we are starting with it. Then Goldstone, and then finally Madrid. There was some duplicate scans during the final readout that overlapped the priority readout data. Thus it is our hope that we will get most of our scans from Woomera and Goldstone and will have to run only a few Madrid tapes. Time will tell. Click on image to enlarge.

Video: Oscilloscope Trace of Lunar Orbiter Image Playback

Dennis Wingo: This is a two minute video that shows, about every 42 seconds, a shift in the video. This occurs when the line is scanned to the end of a framelet, over the calibration features that were pre recorded in the tape. Keith has posted images here that show the relationship between the scope trace and the dynamic range of the tapes. This gives us a qualitative measure of the performance of the tape drive. Even in its sub optimized state today, the scope trace almost exactly matches the original transfer function of the spacecraft film, thus giving us a means to evaluate the quality of the analog data derived from the tape.

LOIRP Status Report 20 June 2013

Dennis Wingo: WE ARE DONE WITH LUNAR ORBITER II PRIMARY CAPTURES!. All we have to do is some clean up of a few gakked framelets.

Here are the final tapes and images captured.

M2-089, partial capture LOII-2049H
M2-090, partial capture LOII-2047M, complete capture 2048H
M2-091, partial capture LOII-2046M, complete capture 2047H
M2-092, partial capture LOII-2045M, partial capture 2046H (completes image)
M2-093, Not Used, redundant with Woomera Tape
M2-094, partial capture LOII-2045H (Completes image)
M2-095, partial capture LOII-2043M, complete capture 2044H, 2042M
M2-096, complete capture LOII-2043H
M2-097, partial capture LOII-2041M, partial capture 2042H (completes image)

It will take several days to get everything into the back end queue and figure out what our final capture rate is, but it looks like we only had five bad tapes out of over 300 LOII tapes for about a 99% capture percentage, which is astounding considering how long it had been since these had been originally recorded.

More next week when we start on LO-V!

LOIRP Status Report 19 June 2013

Dennis Wingo: Mid afternoon 6-19-13. We almost had a catastrophe yesterday. These tapes sometimes shed large chunks of oxide and this happened on tape M-91, one of the Scotch tapes. We had been observing a lot of shedding of material and that had clogged up the vacuum system, which Ken cleaned out. However, there was a large chunk wedged between the control track head (which is a separate head used to read the servo information) and the tape guide. This disrupted the geometry of the tape and contributed to getting a short length of tape sliced in two. It also created a terrible head clog (which kills all the signal from the tape from a single head of the four).

Ken disassembled the head, found the foreign matter and removed it. He also had to re-align the control track head and use a strong solvent to remove the foreign matter from one of the head tips. We are back up and running as of this afternoon as I had to go to the DMV today and in California that takes forever.

We did two tapes yesterday before the problems and I am on one today right now. It is late in the day but we should be able to finish our Madrid Scotch tape captures before I head off on a short vacation to go backpacking in the high Sierras.

LOIRP Status Report 18 June 2013

Dennis WIngo: Status early afternoon: The FR-900 tape driveis down for the want of a 2" long 11/64th ID piece of tubing. This is inside of the head and routes the vacuum from the vacuum pump that pulls the tape up against the female guide on the tape machine. This vacuum keeps the tape in a proper shape for the disk shaped head assembly that is spinning at several thousand RPM to not cut the tape to ribbons. This small part failed after two tapes this morning. Ken Zin is going to Grainger and can hopefully get the piece of hose without having to buy a whole 50' roll! Seven more tapes to go.

LOIRP Status Report 17 June 2013

Dennis Wingo: As those who have followed these statuses know I am now running the Scotch tapes from the Lunar Orbiter II archive. Things are going ok so far, here is our status as of the end of the day today. There have been significant overlaps with both Madrid and Goldstone that have cut down the amount of tape we have had to run by at least 40%. We have had to run each tape, but for not as long as we would have had to otherwise. This is good.

LOIRP Status Report 12 June 2013

Dennis Wingo: We ran two more Goldstone tapes today that we had captured in 2010 but for some reason did not have today. These were G2-093 and G2-095.

We also figured out that some of our images that we did not have in our print out that we actually do have so we have more images complete that we thought. I am going through in detail now and comparing times and dates to see what overlaps there are between Madrid tapes and Woomera and Goldstone so that we can minimize the number of these Scotch tapes we have to run. I will have that done in the morning...

So now I can confidently declare that we have captured all of our Goldstone and Woomera tapes from LOII and just have the 18 Madrid tapes to go or some subset of them.

Our Tape Drive Now Displays The Stardate

Dennis Wingo: This is way cool for us. Notice that in the upper left there is a LED readout. That readout is accurately reading the proper date in 1966 for this particular tape. After several years of messing around trying to recreate a NASA time code reader we found one for $50 on Ebay. Jacob Gold and Ken Zin got it to work.

Keith Cowing: We used to tease people and refer to our tape drives as the "Stargate", the "Reactor", The "Time Machine", or the "Warp Drive" on Twitter when we were testing (and also to enhance Pete Worden's reputation for cutting edge stuff). Now we can show what the Star Date was when a certain tape was recorded. In this case the tape being played back was originally made on day 340 of 1966 - or 6 Dec 1966 - at 11:57:43 GMT. This tape was created when the images from Lunar Orbiter II were being sent back to Earth.

With regard to Stardates and time machines, we were especially happy that William Shatner had these nice words to say about us during our crowdfunding project earlier this year. You see, we at LOIRP and McMoons have a favorite Star Trek Episode: "City on the Edge of Forever".

As you will recall Kirk, Spock, and McCoy go back in time to the 1930s. At one point Spock has to hack his 23rd century tricorder with early 20th century electronics to get data off of it. In our case, we used early 21st century electronics to hack mid 20th century electronics to gain access to 45 year old data. Like Spock and Kirk, we had to do some dumpster diving to get parts. We like to make old things work to explore space and go back in time.

Of course we also like the episode "Tomorrow is Yesterday" when the Enterprise travels back in time (they do that a lot) and have to grab magnetic tape and film footage that shows the Enterprise (i.e. a UFO) in the skies of the 1960s. They also have a fight in the tape storage room (we don't).

Click on images to enlarge

A Lunar Orbiter Image Last Seen 47 Years Ago

After being forgotten for nearly 47 years, three high resolution images taken by the Lunar Orbiter II spacecraft have been rediscovered by the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP). It is unlikely that anyone has seen these images since they were sent back to Earth. Indeed, it is unlikely that very many people saw them at that time either.

The three high resolution images were taken along with a medium resolution image on 23 November 1966 at 17:05:39 GMT. The center point of the images was 26.94 West Longitude, 3.196 degrees North Latitude. The images were taken at an altitude of 43.6 km and the image resolution is 0.93 meters.

We recently came across these three images (#2159) and noticed that they do not appear online at the LPI Lunar Orbiter database. Only the medium resolution image gets mentioned at LPI.

These three images were retrieved from original Lunar Orbiter program analog data tapes yet they appear nowhere in NASA's publications. They do appear on microfilm archives at LOIRP and are mentioned in a simple data log online at LPI. LOIRP has a more extensive computer printout of this data that shows more detail about the images - but not the images themselves.

Unless someone happened to be looking through this microfilm collection (LOIRP has the only extant copy) then it is pretty safe to assume that no one has actually seen these images since a technician saw them on a TV monitor in 1966.

- Left Image [larger] [Raw TIFF - very large]
- Middle Image [larger] [Raw TIFF - very large]
- Right Image [larger] [Raw TIFF - very large]

Note: These three images actually comprise portions of a single high resolution image but these high resolution images were traditionally divided up and numbered in three parts by the Lunar Orbiter program.

The Lunar Orbiter project was rather well documented. Indeed, it is this documentation that allowed the LOIRP to figure out what images are located on which tape, but also how to repair and replace hardware on our 50 year old tape drives. In the course of retrieving images from the original analog data tapes we have come across a number of images - some only partial images - that are not included in formal program documentation or listed in LPI or USGS databases.

We have a working theory as to why these images have been forgotten for the past 47 years. There were three ground stations involved in retrieving data from Lunar Orbiters - Woomera, Australia, Madrid, Spain, and Goldstone, California. There is some overlap due to planetary geometry such that images were often recorded by more than one ground station.

When the spacecraft was playing back its imagery there was only one chance to get the data since it was really not feasible (or advisable) to rewind the film and re-scan and retransmit - since there was no ability to store these images electronically on the spacecraft. So, if one or more ground stations did not record data the first time it was sent, there was no second chance.

How data was sent back to Earth and stored as photographs and data tapes. Click on image to enlarge.

Lunar Orbiters shot their images on 70mm SO-243 photographic film. The film was developed aboard the spacecraft, scanned and sent back to Earth as analog data. One data stream demodulated the image and sent it to a high resolution kinescope (TV screen) where the image on the screen was photographed as a photographic positive. Those photographs were subsequently re-photographed to create a negative, then stitched together and photographed again to create photographic prints used for the requirements of the program.

The data was also sent to analog videotape machines where it was recorded for posterity. Given that the data stored on the analog tapes was scanned directly from the film in lunar orbit and recorded as data on magnetic tape these images were of much higher quality than the photos taken off of the kinescope and re-photographed multiple times. These data tapes were used sparingly to digitize small "chits" that were run through computer programs to measure the height of rocks on the surface and the slope of the surface within the landing ellipses chosen based upon looking at the photographic prints. These computer measurements were done to validate the safety of the landing area as this was difficult to do using just the film record.

The photographic process of capturing kinescope images continued as long as data was being received. But the data tapes had to be changed out after several images had been recorded. However, the spacecraft playback continued while the technicians changed out the tapes - and that process took a few minutes. During the time that the tape was being changed out analog data was not being recorded by that ground station - but it might be recorded by another during the overlap period. Then again it might not.

The way that the images came down involved the transmission of a medium resolution version of an area followed by high resolution images of that area. So, tape changeout tended to happen as the medium resolution image came in. That way, at most, a small portion of the medium resolution image was not recorded on tape. But the photographs of the images appearing on the kinescope continued nonstop - hence the presence of these images on our microfilm collection (these microfilm images were originally given to Dennis Wingo from then fellow student Eric Dahlstrom in 1989 after being purchased at surplus from NASA GSFC). The high resolution images were what most interested the Lunar Orbiter project team - the medium resolution images served to place the high resolution images into context.

Detailed information on image 2159. Click on image to enlarge.

You might wonder why each ground station did not have more than one tape drive. Well, given the expense of these drives, they were lucky just to have one at all three ground stations. Most of the time the images were captured without incident, often by more than one ground station.

Sometimes flaws in the film or glitches on the playback system on the spacecraft would cause flawed images to be sent back. Those flawed images were usually of partial use. That said these flawed images were cataloged as part of the detailed program documentation. As good as these folks were with documenting things, some stuff fell through the cracks.

In the case of image 2159 we think that there was some problem with retrieving the image and that it was designated as having a flaw - but that fact never made it into program documentation. The images were on microfilm that were derived from the data tapes. But the high resolution imagery for 2159 was not printed out and assembled into prints for use by the project team. When we retrieved this high resolution image we did encounter some problems that necessitated some hand assembly. This could well have been part of the problem experienced in 1966.

Regardless of the cause(s) we have retrieved the his resolution imagery and have made it public. Over the next few weeks we'll be releasing some other images which may have suffered a similar fate.

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) is located at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA. Funding and support for this project has been provided by NASA Headquarters, NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Ames Research Center, SkyCorp Inc., and SpaceRef Interactive Inc.

For more information on the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) visit

For information on NASA's Lunar Science Institute visit

LOIRP Status Report 8 June 2013

Thanks to the great support by Tony Korte and his team from Videomagnetics we have our FR-900 tape drive head back and today. We got the machine back up and running after the usual problems in getting a head on the machine and getting things recalibrated. We will be back capturing tapes Monday morning.

Today we mailed the rest of the 8X10 images to people that are due them and we mailed 70 of the microfilm images that people who donated $50 are getting. We will have all of our fulfillment done by the end of this coming week.

We also have had another milestone in that our student Jacob Gold, working with Ken Zin has gotten our tape time code reader quasi working. This is something that we have wanted for a long time to minimize head wear as what we have to do now is spin a tape in to near where we want and then watch for the framelet strip numerical ID's to determine where we need to start capturing for those tapes that have some overlap with the other ground stations. The time code use is called NASA-36 which is decades obsolete with no modern hardware that reads it. Jacob and Ken got this one working finally today after fixing problems with the time code reader itself and a broken wire on the audio stack on the tape machine.

This picture shows Jacob standing with the time code reader above his head. It mostly works and we will get the final bugs out of it as we run tape next week. We think that this time code reader reads the actual day of the year down to the second when the tape was made. This will save us money and head wear!

LOIRP Status Report 31 May 2013

Dennis Wingo: We are still on stand down until the tape drive head gets back from the shop. It was delivered to Videomagnetics today so hopefully it will be back here before the end of next week. While we wait, Austin Epps and Jacob Gold (who has joined us as one of our student interns this summer) are catching up on the back end processing of the images. Jacob has over 3,000 framelets to number right now!

The last two tapes that ran on 5-29 before the tae drive head tip broke are listed below.

G2-071, partial capture LOII-2095H (completes image)
G2-072, partial capture LOII-2093M, complete capture 2094H

LOIRP Status Report 29 May 2013

Dennis Wingo: Its dead Jim.... The new head we just got and have ran about 20 tapes has died. Somehow a tip was broken this morning when we put G2-073 on the machine. We are going to have to send it back to Videomagnetics for repair. We may be able to find one of our other heads with some life left to carry us over until we get this one back but I can't count on it. We can now catch up on all of the captures we have done of late. We should have several hundred more images now! I will get some statistics from Austin after we have processed the tapes that we have done lately.

Maintaining Our Old Tape Drives

Ken Zin works with an Ampex tape drive head for our FR-900 tape drive. This one had to be sent back to repair after the refurbishment. One of the head tips did not work.

Thanks To You We're Ordering a New Head

Thanks so very much for your support. Though we are well short of our goal at this time, we have raised enough money to do the most essential thing that we have to do, which is to order the refurbishment of one head. Tony Korte of and his great staff of people are a critical part of our overall team. Without Tony there would be no more heads for our FR-900 machine and they have worked with us over the past few years to keep our machines going.

The first tranche of money raised is going to go to Tony to refurbish one head. We need more to finish the project but this will give us our first leg up in moving forward. My latest picture shows the head that your generosity has funded to get refurbished. There is an incredibly delicate and technical art to head refurbishment and the FR-900 is the most technically challenging head refurbish that they do for the old Ampex machines. This is because the FR-900 is not simply a video recorder, it is an instrumentation recorder with higher bandwidth than the commercial video machines. This means that the tolerances are tighter and the accuracy of head alignment must be better than on the video machines. This obviously costs more money.

With your help we can get more of these heads refurbished and pay our people to be able to transfer these images!


A Typical Day at LOIRP and McMoons

Original analog data tape from Lunar Orbiter 5 recorded live as data was sent back from lunar orbit in Aug 1967 being played back today (4 Feb 2013) for data recovery and enhancement. Video clip below shows data capture under way.

Video of data collection of #lunarorbiter 5 image at LOIRP ri... on Twitpic

This audio is from a Lunar Orbiter tape made on 24 Feb 1967. In the tape you can hear the techs talking about whether the "Surveyor" or "Luna 9" spacecraft could be seen in any images. Both spacecraft had landed on the lunar surface.

Video: Lunar Orbiter Techs Talk About Crater Kepler in 1967

This audio is from a Lunar Orbiter tape made on 24 Feb 1967. In the tape you can hear the techs talking about an image they were expecting to download the next day - an oblique shot of crater Kepler. At one point, one tech says "The Russians said that they saw smoke rising from Kepler but in the medium [resolution image] there is no smoke present."

Video: Downloading a Lunar Orbiter III image

Photos of the Ampex FR-900 and AR-550 Tape Drive Design Team

The Ampex FR-900 and AR-550 design teams. The FR-900 tape drives are the large units in the background and were used to record images sent back by the Lunar Orbiter missions. We have two refurbished FR-900s at the LOIRP at McMoons at NASA Ames Research Center. The smaller tape drive in front, the AR-550 is the flight version of the FR-900 and was flown aboard Skylab.

The Ampex AR-550 design team.

Video of Lunar Orbiter imagery retrieved today

Video of Lunar Orbiter imagery retrieved today #NASA on Twitpic

Note: Thanks to Al Kossow at the Computer History Museum for finding and scanning these pages in for us.

Excerpt: "Fifty Years of Data in One Week Recently, Oran W. Nicks, NASA's Director of Lunar and Planetary Programs, remarked: "one astronomer has said that more information has been obtained in the first seven days of the Lunar Orbiter I project than in the last 50 years of study of the Moon." Truly, the matchless cooperation and inspired creativity exhibited in the design and construction of Lunar Orbiter spacecraft and, supporting equipment by NASA, the scientific community, and American industry has helped us to take those longer-strides that President Kennedy called for in 1961 when he first spoke of the Apollo landing of a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the earth. Preceeding our men on the Moon, are three unmanned missions that are mapping possible landing areas, testing surface strength and composition, and establishing the launch, guidance and navigation technology, for a successful manned excursion. Ranger (now completed) and Surveyor are managed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Overall Lunar Orbiter management is by the Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory provides tracking and data acquisition support for the Orbiter program."

Newsletter is presented below

Analysis of Lunar Orbiter Images Recovered From Analog Tape

D. R. Wingo1 and C. J. Byrne2, 1Skycorp Incorporated, P.O. Box 375 Moffett Field, CA,,

Submitted to 42nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

Introduction: The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) was founded in 2008 with funding from NASA ESMD to recover Lunar Orbiter images from the original 2" analog magnetic tapes that had been held in protective storage by the National Archives and NASA for 40 years. Of the three central questions that had to be answered for project success, (can the tape drives be brought back to life, are the tapes any good, what is the quality of the data the best available), the final question, whether or not the analog image data on the tapes was superior in quality to the existing film was the ultimate criterion for success.

More Lost Apollo Data Tapes Discovered

WA physicist's 'Moon Dust' tapes may hold keys to future lunar landings

"A set of original NASA data tapes from moon landings in the 1960s now held in Western Australia may hold the keys to overcoming problems associated with the effects of lunar dust on future moon missions. They are also set to help kickstart the Australian Government's recently launched space research program. The 177 original (or primary) data tapes - most likely the only tapes of their kind in the world - contain the results of experiments using dust detectors on the surface of the moon by Apollo 11, 12 and 14 astronauts. They have been recently supplemented by secondary data from Apollo 12, 14 and 15 missions."

Buying Lunar Orbiter Tape Drive Parts on eBay

Dennis Wingo: Last night on the Ampex mailing list the following message was posted:

Over on the oldvtrs list, someone pointed out this eBay item: 110459620505

Several of us immediately identified them, not as quad modules, but as VPR-7900 modules. Then another member pointed out that they were the wrong size which caused me to take a closer look. I have just checked the actual machines to be certain, and also checked the manuals and the Ampex part number guide. Now, this has turned into a major mystery. Here's what I can tell you with absolute certainty:

1) The style of the front panels is like the 7900 series (ground jacks and board function listed at the bottom of each module...they are upside down in the pic), but the module functions, layout and part numbers do not match the 7900 (or 7800) series. They are also the wrong size.

2) The part numbers listed are all in the range of the part numbers used for the quad machines! The part numbers for the 7900 series was entirely different.

The seller seems quite sure that these were from a 2" quad. The part numbers seem to indicate that could be the case. Anyone have any ideas????? Perhaps something from special products division???? This is extremely curious!!!


I thought this was interesting and since I am always looking for spares for our LOIRP FR-900's I checked it out on eBay. Here is the page I found.

Larger view

When I looked I was pretty certain that these were boards from our FR-900 machines. It had the right part numbers, so I called Ken Zin at home the night before Thanksgiving and asked him to verify, which he did and noted that these are newer version boards of the ones that we have!! So I bid on them and won them today.

I got this message from Don Norwood later:


Oh my, from the limited info I have, I can see that now! And in fact, they're not upside down in the pic as that orientation is correct for the FR-900. Wow! I hope you can use them!

So, after winning the boards on Ebay, we are pursuing the boards to get them shipped to us and to see if this fellow has some more. We will try to get the story from him of his dad and how he might have come by these extremely rare boards. In the year and a half of our project, this is the FIRST time that we have found anything related to the FR-900 hardware that did not come from Nancy Evans.

A Day in the Life of LOIRP

Louisa Smith visiting the lab today.

Engineer Ken Kledzik designing and building a new VCO for the FR-900

Ken still working today on the VCO design and build

Our pirate flag, with the sun behind it.

Lunar Orbiter II_092 image tape being run.

Video: Two FR-900 Drives Operational

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The LOIRP Project has reached a major milestone of having two Ampex FR-900 Instrumentation Tape Drives operational at once. This will allow us to accelerate the production of images. This is probably the first time in 30 years that two FR-900s have been operational in the same room at the same time.

LOIRP Works To Bring Second FR-900 Tape Drive Online

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Keith's note: we are working to get our second FR-900 tape drive restored and operational. Once that is accomplished the LOIRP will embark upon a new program with a dramatically enhanced capability to retrieve - and release images.

Image: This is one of our original FR-900 Ampex heads with two new preamps. Part of our upgrade program - a Silicon Transistor Preamp and Germanium Preamp

Image: a portion of our set of Lunar Orbiter data tapes at McMoon's - an abandoned McDonalds onsite at NASA Ames Research Park, home of the LOIRP - Lunar Orbiter Image recovery Project.

Here at the LOIRP (Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Process) project there are two different phases of the image retrieval process that are distinct from each other. The second phase, the production of the vast majority of all the of the Lunar Orbiter images, will simply involve putting tapes on the tape drive machines, acquiring the data, and processing them into images.

However, we're still in the first phase of the project where we need to search through tapes in a painstaking fashion just to find the images we are interested in downloading. Once we find what we are looking for, downloading is a snap and can be done in a matter of hours.

Finding the images using a jumbled nomenclature and labeling system last used more than 40 years ago is part of what we call "Technoarchaeology".

Video: Pulling Lunar Orbiter Images Off of Original Data Tapes

Austin Epps sitting in the LOIRP lab at "McMoons" at NASA Ames Research Center downloading imagery from an original Lunar Orbiter data tape using a restored FR-900 tape drive on 18 August 2009

Lockheed Martin Corporation has donated the labor required to erect a class 10,000 clean room to the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP).  This clean room will help protect our refurbished 1960's era Ampex FR-900 tape drives from the environment inside NASA Ames Research Park Building 596 aka "McMoons", which was originally constructed to house a McDonalds restaurant.

In the 1960's these tape drives were operated in an old style computer room, with raised floors ultra-clean air, and constant air conditioning.  Since our building's air conditioning system was sized for the heat of the kitchen and lots of customers, we are able to maintain the temperature to near optimum conditions.  However, dust and dirt are still a problem with the finely tuned machine.  

One large dust particle could break a head tip if it went into it in the wrong direction.  As such, this 10 x 12 foot clean room will provide a more optimal environment for both of the tape drives.  

The clean room has a positive air pressure and heavy filtering of the air to reduce dust particles in the air.  The positive air pressure also helps to keep outside floor dirt from being sucked up in the fans that cool the machines.

The Lockheed Martin team who helped in the assembly of the portable clean room were Bob Allen, Lance Ellingson, Robert Phillips, and David Leskovsky.

"This generous gift from Lockheed Martin will help us to keep the our tape drives operating better in an environment similar to what they were designed for" said Dennis Wingo, LOIRP project lead.

LOIRP Article in Computer World: How We Got The Images

The lost NASA tapes: Restoring lunar images after 40 years in the vault, Computerworld

"Liquid nitrogen, vegetable steamers, Macintosh workstations and old, refrigerator-size tape drives. These are just some of the tools a new breed of Space Age archeologists is using to sift through the digital debris from the early days of NASA, mining the information in ways unimaginable when it was first gathered four decades ago. At stake is data that could show Earth's risk of an asteroid strike, shed light on global warming and -- perhaps -- even satisfy those who think the moon landings were a hoax. The most visible of the archeologists is arguably Dennis Wingo, head of Skycorp Inc., a small aerospace engineering firm in Huntsville, Ala. He's the driving force behind the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, operating out of a decommissioned McDonald's (since dubbed McMoon's) at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. The project's goal is to recover and enhance as many of the original lunar landing images as possible."

Refurbished capstan motor. Copyright 2009 LOIRP reproduction or republication prohibited without prior written permission.

Ken and Nathan working on refurbished capstan motor. Copyright 2009 LOIRP reproduction or republication prohibited without prior written permission.

Ken working on refurbished capstan motor. Copyright 2009 LOIRP reproduction or republication prohibited without prior written permission.

FR-900 Pamphlet

The Challenges of Archiving


No Silver Bullet: Archive Challenges, Permabits and Petabytes

"Even worse, going beyond 5 years exceeds the functional life of media or recording technology, and maintaining physical readability becomes increasingly difficult. I'd be wiling to bet that a number of my readers have boxes of QIC-80 tapes in the garage or basement with old data on them. Even if the tapes have a 50 year lifespan, do you have any ideas on where to get a working QIC-80 tape drive? NASA just recently went through an amazing project to recover old Lunar Orbiter image data, involving finding, refurbishing and interfacing with 40-year-old Ampex tape drives, an enormous project covering more than a decade to complete. Media life isn't the problem with long-term data storage, and "archival-grade" media isn't going to solve your physical readability problems, because the reader hardware will never last as long as the media."

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Moonrush: Improving Life on Earth with the Moon's Resources
Moonrush: Improving Life on Earth with the Moon's Resources

The Kaguya Lunar Atlas: The Moon in High Resolution
The Kaguya Lunar Atlas: The Moon in High Resolution

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Lunar Orbiter Photographic Atlas of the Near Side of the Moon

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Apollo: Through the Eyes of the Astronauts

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