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<nettime> Paper Wraps Computer
David Mandl on Fri, 3 Aug 2001 21:33:37 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Paper Wraps Computer

[From RISKS-List, Volume 21, Issue 56...]


Date: Sat, 28 Jul 2001 23:31:43 -0700 (PDT)
From: Aaron Dickey <wnnaaron {AT} yahoo.com>
Subject: NASA data from 1970s lost due to "forgotten" file format

In 1999, USC neurobiologist Joseph Miller asked NASA to check some old
data the Viking probes had sent back from Mars in the mid-1970s. Miller
wanted to find out whether certain information on gas released by Martian
soil, which at the time had been dismissed as meaningless "chemical
activity," was actually evidence of microbial life. NASA found the tapes
he requested, but they didn't find any way to read them. It turns out that
the data, despite being only about 25 years old, was in a format NASA had
long since forgotten about. Or, as Miller puts it, "The programmers who
knew it had died."

Luckily, Miller has been able to cobble together about a third of the data
and get some useful results, but only because some form of printed record
had been saved. (And yes, he does believe the Viking probes turned up
evidence of microbes.)

Source: Reuters. Original article is available, at least temporarily, at
<http://reuters.activebuddy.com/s?id=DS1DEKNG8BBN>, or


Dave Mandl
dmandl {AT} panix.com
davem {AT} wfmu.org

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