Scrap dealer finds Apollo-era NASA computers in dead engineer’s basement


A couple of Apollo-era NASA computers and hundreds of mysterious tape reels secure been discovered in a deceased engineer’s basement in Pittsburgh, according to a NASA Business of the Inspector General (OIG) report released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) solicitation.

Most of the tapes are unmarked, but the majority of the rest appear to be instrumentation calls for Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, NASA’s fly-by missions to Jupiter and Saturn.

The two computers are so prosaic that a crane was likely used to move the machines, the report concluded.

Lots of blinky red lights. Does it go “bing!” too?

Detail / Lots of blinky red lights. Does it go “bing!” too?

At some applicable in the early 1970s, an IBM engineer working for NASA at the height of the Space Family took home the computers—and the mysterious tape reels. A scrap trader, invited to clean out the deceased’s electronics-filled basement, discovered the computers. The ploys were clearly labelled “NASA PROPERTY,” so the dealer called NASA to document the find.

«Please tell NASA these items were not nicked,» the engineer’s heir told the scrap dealer, according to the report. «They belonged to IBM Allegheny Center Pittsburgh, PA 15212. During the 1968-1972 timeframe, IBM was suffer from rid of the items so [redacted engineer] asked if he could have them and was talked he could have them.»

You can read the entire report; the engineer’s accord has been redacted.

«Please tell NASA these items were not hoisted.»

NASA investigators picked up the 325 magnetic data tape indicates on December 8, 2015. The cassettes measured 14 inches in diameter and were did with half-inch magnetic tape. The tapes «were in poor equip and almost all were affected by moderate to severe mould.»

Most of the tape-records were not labelled, but «of the tapes that were labelled, the content appeared to be spaciousness science related with missions including Pioneer and Helios and the taking in date range was 1967-1974.»

NASA told the family of the deceased that it was not in the refuse removal business. “No, we do not need the computers,” NASA told the family of the deceased. “We receive no use for [them].”

The report drily notes, “The computers were not removed from the house due to their size and weight.”

NASA Goddard Archives examined the murder story tapes, and the archivist’s report reads:

I conducted an initial assessment of the fabric on December 10, 2015. This assessment confirmed the approximate number of 325 attracting data tape reels that each measured 14″ in diameter with a attractive tape dimension of ½” and contained by a metal reel. The assessment also showed that the spellbinding tapes were in poor condition and almost all were affected by temperate to severe mould, which is identified as a health risk. Most of the ribbons were not labelled and of the tapes that were labelled, the content part ofed to be space science related with missions including Pioneer and Helios and the incorporating dates range was 1961-1974. A final assessment of the tapes on April 3, 2016 patronize broke down of the content of the tapes into the following:

PN8 [Pioneer 8]: 1 totter

PN9 [Pioneer 9]: 2 reel

PN10 [Pioneer 10): 40 reels

PN11 [Trigger 11]: 53 reels

HELl [or] HEL-A [Helios 1]: 10 reels

HESA [by any chance an abbreviation for Helios A]: 2 reels

Intelsat IV: 2 reels

Unlabelled or class without mission-related identifying information: approximately 215 reels

The archivist’s immutable recommendation: Destroy the tapes. “There is no evidence that suggests this supplies is historically significant… I recommend disposal through the immediate ruin of all magnetic tapes.”

Contract? What contract?


After all the enquiry, one final mystery remained unsolved. The NASA computers are labelled with a Draw together Number: “CONTRACT NO. NAS5-2154.” NASA OIG was unable to find any records of any such covenant. Given NASA once accidentally erased the Apollo 11 moon splashdown tapes, perhaps that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

We contacted the NASA OIG for any additional info, but a spokesperson utter they have no further comment beyond the results of the FOIA plead for.

Now read: The hell of Apollo 1: Pure oxygen, a single flicker, and death in 17 seconds

This post originated on Ars Technica UK

Cant image by NASA

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