Seen on RISKS-L

From: Eric J. Korpela <>
Date: Thu Mar 7 17:51:26 2002

> > >This is not a new problem - It has appeared in Risks before (RISKS-21.56:
> > >'NASA data from 1970s lost due to "forgotten" file format' for one...), but
> > >is worth keeping in mind.
> Urban myth. Every bit of every mission is available on CD-ROM.

Depends upon how you define mission. I have NASA data that doesn't
appear anywhere except in my possession. Not that it would be of much

The "forgotten file format" problem I'm recalling is actually a forgotten
record encoding problem that exists with some data stored on mylar (IIRC) punch
tape. The data exists and is readable, but how to convert it into something
physically meaningful has been lost.

The item referred to above is as follows:

"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....
Received on Thu Mar 07 2002 - 17:51:26 GMT

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