Data recovery in extremis: Space Shuttle Columbia

May 07, 2008

On 1 February 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed while re-entering the Earth's atmosphere following a touch-and-go mission due to the damage incurred by the orbiter during lift off some days earlier. The crew was killed and the shuttle lost, presumably with all of the data collected while in orbit going with it. Save for the data from experiment CXV-2, which gathered information pertaining to the point of critical viscosity of xenon gas.. while poring over the wreckage of the Columbia, the recovery team operating out of the Johnson Space Center found most of the fragments of a 400 megabyte Seagate hard drive that was used to store experimental data during the mission. The drive was handed over to Kroll Ontrack of Minneapolis, Minnesota in the faint hope that they could find anything useful in the remains.

Even though the drive fell to Earth in a space vehicle that was not only on fire, but several miles above the ground, they managed to recover approximately 90% of the data from the hard drive.

Now that's amazing.