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Help Solve the Mystery of the Pioneer Anomaly

Hemos posted more than 8 years ago | from the put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is dept.

Space 473

deglr6328 writes "Very soon, NASA will be dismantling and scrapping its only computer left which is able to access and process the data on its ancient 7- and 9-track magnetic tapes. "Who cares", you say? Well, the Planetary Society for one and they're hoping you might care as well. The data held on these (few hundred) tapes is no ordinary forgettable data, it is the complete archive of the first 15 years of all the data returned to Earth by the Pioneer spacecraft which were sent into interstellar space. This additional and thus far unexamined data (the data after 1988 is available and has already been examined) may hold the key to solving what is considered one of the top problems in physics today, the so called Pioneer anomaly, where the observed trajectory of these spacecraft (and a couple others) deviates noticeably from our very precise expectation. The reason for the anomaly may be as mundane as uneven radiation pressure or escaping thruster fuel or it may be as groundbreaking as a clue to completely new physics, perhaps related to dark matter or dark energy. The Planetary Society is planning on recovering this data and poring over it meticulously to look for something which may have been missed or hidden from current investigations into the phenomenon. They need money to do this, about $250,000, and are asking for donations to fund the project. You do not need to be a member to donate. There are no serious proposals to send any more spin-stabilized spacecraft on solar escape trajectories any time in the near future and this is probably the only tenable method we have to directly investigate this mystery in the interim."

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473 comments

I just ate some chicken. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156270)



I just ate some fried chicken...

The breasts were juicy, and the buns were soft and warm.

Afterwards, the division manager of Popeyes came up to my table and asked me how the meal was.I said I was satisfied, but the meal lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. He apologized profusely, and said he had something to show me that would make up for it.

He lead me to the back of the popeyes, to a room soaked from floor to ceiling in blood. In the center of it was a live horse, chained by all four legs to the structural supports of the warehouse like room. As I watched, employees of the popeyes cut large sections from the horse, which was whinneying and screaming in horror, the remaining sections of its body covered with festering sores and a froth of sweat.

The popeyes employees took the chunks of horseflesh and sliced them into pieces, then they rooted around through the bags of trash strewn around the room to find discarded chicken bones. They quickly tenderized the meat with sledgehammers and fed it into a machine which formed the horsemeat around the bones, then they breaded and deepfried it.

I asked the division manager why he had led me back to this place, and he pointed at the steed's rump, the diseased asshole puckering rythmically with terror, squirting pus with each convulsion. "We're just about to use that section, would you like a crack at it first?"

I quickly unzipped my pants and wasted no time jamming my erect penis into the stallion's defenseless asshole. With each thrust, I donkey punched the horse in the back of the head, making it clench its ass even tighter. I came just as the horse died. I was delighted. Popeyes definitely went the extra mile to make me a satisfied customer..

Re:I just ate some chicken. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156329)

You're a sick puppy, get help...

Re:I just ate some chicken. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156383)

What the fuck is wrong with you? Get some professional help. On a completely unrelated note, the captcha below reads 'prostate', which I find oddly fitting.

I solved my mystery (4, Funny)

Psionicist (561330) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156280)

The damn thing only supported DVD-R discs, not DVD+R, that's why it didn't work.

Re:I solved my mystery (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156348)

cdrecord and mkisofs suck

Have you heard of Nero? (4, Insightful)

yotto (590067) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156294)

I'm not making a joke. Can't they just rip the tapes to a hard drive? This isn't Star Wars where you can't copy the "data tapes" after all.

Re:Have you heard of Nero? (4, Informative)

scsirob (246572) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156314)

There's hardly any hardware available to read these tapes anymore. Proprietary format, ancient tape drives and undocumented data formats make this a huge problem.

Re:Have you heard of Nero? (5, Interesting)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156452)

Surely considering the priceless data on these tapes, I'm sure they could hire engineers to rebuild the original tape readers, perhap with modern heads to account for magnetic fading.

Frankly, I've worked for companies that paid a great deal of money to save their software assets that were stored on old, seemingly unreadable media (a shitload of Digital Research files, the recovery cost us $50k), and that data wasn't even close to the value of the Pioneer probe data. If that's what stops NASA from salvaging that data, somebody needs to be fired there...

Re:Have you heard of Nero? (0)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156491)

Surely considering the priceless data on these tapes, I'm sure they could hire engineers to rebuild the original tape readers, perhap with modern heads to account for magnetic fading.

They have the technology. They can rebuild him!^H^H^H it!

All they need is $1,000,000... I mean... $250,000!

(Do I get bonus points for geeky references? ;-))

But how huge? (4, Insightful)

John Harrison (223649) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156465)

For instance, how much data is there? I've read some of the linked articles and I can't find any estimate of how many MB there might be. I would guess that there isn't a massive amount of data simply because the thing was designed within the limits of 1970s technology and they had to be able to record the data as it was coming in.

Also, I would be shocked if NASA didn't document any of the file formats used. I've worked on a NASA project and they are all about documentation. In fact, I was writing a system used to document the shuttle booster production process.

Re:But how huge? (1)

Taladar (717494) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156541)

But did they document where to find the important parts in those huge amounts of documentation?

Re:But how huge? (1, Insightful)

'nother poster (700681) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156543)

Quick math. 40 years at 16 bits per second, that's right, 16 BITS per second, is... 19.2MB of data.

BTW, the Pioneer spacecraft were launched in the 1960's, not 70's, so even older tech.

Re:But how huge? (1, Insightful)

putaro (235078) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156585)

Quick but wrong.

16 bits * 3600 secs/hr = 57600 bits or 5760 bytes (I usually divide bps by 10 to get bytes because of things like parity and other protocol overhead)
5760 bytes/hr * 24 hr = 195840 bytes/day
195840bytes/day * 365 days/year = 71481600 bytes/year
71 MB/year * 40 = 2840 MB

Still a trivial amount by today's standards but I think you need to check those flashing fingers of yours on the calculator.

Re:Have you heard of Nero? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156466)

Wow, your description gave me a flashback to when I was dumb enough to own apple hardware.

Re:Have you heard of Nero? (1)

jurt1235 (834677) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156485)

It should be possible to just load the tapes on by one, run them through the master program which was designed for it, and use some IO port, probably serial, to capture the (extremely slow) bitstream.

Re:Have you heard of Nero? (3, Informative)

bazio (864132) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156526)

The largest part of the cost does not come from recovering the data (although that will be costly), it is from the cost to actually analyze the data and perform any necessary calculations. Despite the current economic conditions, PhD's don't work cheap, at least, not the ones with the required skill sets for this analysis. Additionally, the storage cost is going to be a bit in and of itself. I am not sure of the density and capacity of the tapes NASA used, but 15 years worth of every useful piece of data (observations, navigation, status, etc...) has got to be a lot. Just "ripping it to a hard drive" would require a bit of hard drive space, and would be a bit useless, since they would just be moving it from one aging magnetic media to a slightly newer magnetic media. They are probably hoping to either move the data to some sort of optical storage, or read it directly from the tapes.

Re:Have you heard of Nero? (1)

Ulven (679148) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156561)

But once the data is on a hard drive you now have more than one machine that can read it. And when that machine is about to be scrapped, I'd think that was a considerable advantage.

Re:Have you heard of Nero? (4, Informative)

gclef (96311) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156558)

One thing to consider: old tape is fragile. I worked with audio tape for years, and tape older than 10 years had to be literally baked (heated & cooled again) before playing. If you didn't bake an old tape the filings from the tape would slough off onto the reading heads...you might (if you were lucky) get one play out of an unbaked tape, but the audio on the tape would definitely be destroyed.

Given the age of these tapes, getting the data off without destroying it is not as simple as just slapping it onto the machine & hitting "play."

Archive in different format (0, Redundant)

FL180 (687894) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156298)

How about just take the data and archive it in a different format? Then it's not tied to a specific piece of hardware.

Re:Archive in different format (1)

nonuttin (851992) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156355)

I agree, it makes much more sense to have a short term goal to convert this data to a more modern format. That would give them the time to gather necessary funds and work on the data analysis.

Re:Archive in different format (1)

dascandy (869781) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156372)

How are you possibly going to archive anything specific on a specific kind of nonspecific hardware? Doesn't it kind of imply, that at the moment you archive it, you archive it with the device only to unarchive it later with a similar or compatible device?

You cannot untie any storage method from it's associated storage equipment. You can however move it to a more current kind of device, say, a RAID.

Re:Archive in different format (5, Informative)

mikeswi (658619) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156408)

That's just what they're planning to do. The problem is that the current format can only be understood by a particular type of obsolete computer that NASA is about to scrap.

I had a letter somewhere that explained the problem in detail but I must have tossed it (I'm a member of the society, so I get the occasional mailing). They're planning to port the data to a modern format so it can be examined properly.

Re:Archive in different format (2, Insightful)

Omega Hacker (6676) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156524)

What I utterly fail to understand is why NASA thinks they can get away with scrapping the only computer on the planet that can read the tapes, without spending a few days to read the tapes off first????? What kind of <oxymoron>brilliant NASA administrator<oxymoron> thought that was even remotely a good idea?

AFAICT, They are fully aware of the fact that they have data that defines priceless, and they're just going to toss it in the trash along with the computer because they got tired of trying to figure it out.

Now that's a FAQ for you, Planetary Society...

Huh? (2, Insightful)

pair-a-noyd (594371) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156308)

This additional and thus far unexamined data

Let me be the first to say WTF?!!

This is inexcusable.
It's insane to throw this project out the window..
I hope people will step up to the plate on this. I for one will..

Re:Huh? (1)

I8TheWorm (645702) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156364)

I too will be donating to this project. But I really do have to ask... why has this not been done already? My first WTF moment of the week, and it's only 10:00 AM on Monday.

Re:Huh? (1)

dlefavor (725930) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156455)

From TFA:

After years of analysis, but without a final conclusion, NASA, astonishingly, gave up trying to solve the "Pioneer Anomaly" and provided no funds to analyze the data. The Pioneer data exists on a few hundred ancient 7- and 9-track magnetic tapes, which can only be read on "antique" outdated computers. The agency is going to scrap, literally demolish, the only computers able to access and process that data in the next few months!

Looks to me like they're scrapping the 'puters, not the tapes. I doubt they're the last ones on earth capable of reading old tapes. It isn't the computers anyway, it's the tape drives and software that connects them that are the critical items.

Further, it looks like they are asking for money to do analysis (read: salaries of humans), not necessarily save the data.

Still and all, we need to save the data. I wonder what other really cool stuff is stored on media that nobody can read?

How much do you want to bet... (4, Insightful)

scorp1us (235526) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156309)

That those several hundred tapes will fit on a $10 USB key? That's what 128 or 256MB these days?

Re:How much do you want to bet... (2, Funny)

'nother poster (700681) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156419)

Yes, they most likely will fit. Now please invent a time machine and yourself back to the 1960's so you can have them install a USB port, preferably USB 2.0, on the computers for the Pioneer project. See, all the problems are solved!

Re:How much do you want to bet... (4, Interesting)

scorp1us (235526) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156498)

Actually it shoulnd't be that hard... as an embedded software engineer, i would say run the signal from the tape head to a DAC (if analog) and just write out the data the same way a wav file is written. When you "write out" the data, you only need to signal the USB serial protocol which would wrap the (analog?) data. The actual mediaum for USB data is a differential pair of wires. Some micro geek with tape reading experience could probably build a tape -to-usb reader for a few bucks. You wouldn't even need a USB tranceiver, though it probably would make it much, much easier.

All in all, remmeber you only have to take some data and wrap it in a protocol that is expressed on a differential pair. Not that hard...

If... (4, Insightful)

fimbulvetr (598306) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156311)

If we donate, and they reach the amount, will the data be open to everyone?
That is absolutely critical, I will not donate unless I can see the data.

RTFF (5, Informative)

spellraiser (764337) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156374)

From the FAQ [planetary.org]:

Will the data be made publicly available?
Yes. First, the data first must be recovered, validated, documented, and preliminary analyses must be done. After those tasks are completed (probably taking months to a year), the data will be made publicly available, including second-order data products when the raw data is processed by JPL orbit software.

Re:RTFF (5, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156499)

Thanks for pulling that out. It seems to me, though, that the key part is:
Why does it cost $250,000 to recover the data? This seems like a lot.

This amount enables us first to save the data from destruction, and then to support the complex analyses necessary to solve this mystery. We may well have to bring in more help from other eminent "celestial mechanicians" to provide fresh perspectives on the anomaly.

Before giving them a cent, I'd really like to know a) how much the data retrieval costs and b) whether it really can't be done by EDS or someone else accustomed to dealing with ancient data files. I'm certainly not donating for them to "may well have to bring in more help".

MOD PARENT UP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156510)


Wish I had some moderation points right now...

Re:RTFF (2, Insightful)

badmammajamma (171260) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156544)

What's the point in recovering the data if they can't analyze it after they get it? The purpose of the project is to figure out why these space craft are not on the precise trajectories they have calculated -- it's not simply the gathering of old data.

Rather qualified (4, Insightful)

Richard W.M. Jones (591125) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156527)

First, the data first must be recovered, validated, documented, and preliminary analyses must be done. After those tasks are completed (probably taking months to a year),

Why not publish the data immediately, and qualify and expand it as they go along?

Rich.

Re:If... (0, Redundant)

Walkiry (698192) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156376)

RTFA:

Will the data be made publicly available?
Yes. First, the data first must be recovered, validated, documented, and preliminary analyses must be done. After those tasks are completed (probably taking months to a year), the data will be made publicly available, including second-order data products when the raw data is processed by JPL orbit software.

And miss.... (4, Funny)

Blitzenn (554788) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156317)

What and miss a great opportunity for a wonderful conspiracy theory in the future?

"They destroyed those things so we wouldn't know what it REALLY found. I know they did! Why else would they destroy them. It must be a conspiracy!"

Re:And miss.... (1, Funny)

igny (716218) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156440)

where the observed trajectory of these spacecraft (and a couple others) deviates noticeably from our very precise expectation. Apparently, Hollywood didn't have very good computers before 1988.

Free money? (4, Funny)

ActionJesus (803475) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156326)

You do not need to be a member to donate.

Just as well, i was away to send a million pounds but thought "oh no! im not a member! theyll never accept my non-space-geek cash!"

Funding (5, Insightful)

fejikso (567395) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156330)

$250,000 sounds like very little money compared to other NASA projects. Why can't my tax dollars go to these projects instead of the military?

Re:Funding (0, Troll)

Chicane-UK (455253) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156422)

Because the majority of your voting public re-elected a war president.

The rest of the world (and the 49 percent of people who DIDNT want him back in) did try to tell them it was a bad idea, but obviously enough people didn't listen! :(

Re:Funding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156588)

Because the majority of your voting public re-elected a war president.

Ahem, let's not forget that John Kerry (the candidate who received quite a few of those votes from the 49% that didn't want him back in) supported Bush's descision to go to war in Iraq.

Re:Funding (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156424)

Because defense spending is a necessary and Constitutionally-justified federal espense. Space exploration is not. Since you really do not want any sort of national defense, we'll make sure to "throw you on the bayonettes" of the enemy next time any army, terrorist or otherwise, attacks us. Maybe your corpse will slow them down, and you can contribute in some way especially when you refused to pay your fair share. You've made your contempt for your own country and its people pretty clear to us.

Re:Funding (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156428)

two words: Al Quaida

Re:Funding (1)

ChillyWillie (887514) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156505)

$250k? I work for the gov't and you've got to be kidding me! What can they possibly accomplish with that little money? You'd be lucky to get 2 man-years out of that.

Small research projects get more money than that. I honestly don't see how this funding will be sufficient for anything other than posting the data on a webpage.

Why the deviance? (3, Interesting)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156341)

Do all of these spacefaring craft differ from their expected trajectories by the same factor? If so, it seems that that would mean there is some as-yet unknown, pervasive force that exerts itself more-or-less evenly in the area that these craft have traveled.

If the difference of their expected trajectories have no commonality, it would seem to mean either some new force is affecting the craft differently, or each craft has its own mechanical explanation as to why they aren't staying the course.

Do *none* of these craft follow the expected trajectory? If not, then we really can't be sure whether this is a collection of mechanical issues or various effects of the unknown force. If one or two craft followed course perfectly, I would be inclined to say that the rest have mechanical issues knocking them off course.

Re:Why the deviance? (1)

stevesliva (648202) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156389)

Right. Briefly:
Is there a Voyager anomaly?

Re:Why the deviance? (1)

Joe Decker (3806) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156504)

From reading the various articles, Voyager's "three-axis stabilization system" apparently introduces "noise" in the spacecraft trajectory which overwhelm the very tiny effect seen in Pioneer.

Re:Why the deviance? (5, Informative)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156534)

Is there a Voyager anomaly?

Perhaps. We don't know because Voyager, like most other spacecraft, is 3-axis stabilised. That means it keeps pointed the right way using only its thrusters. Pioneer is spin stabilised, like a rifle bullet in flight, so requires much smaller pointing corrections using thrusters. The anomaly is a very slight one, so slight that it is lost in the uncertainty caused by the level of thruster activity on 3-axis stabilised craft.

Re:Why the deviance? (2, Informative)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156554)

Spins like a rifle bullet, but a damn slight slower! Of the order of a few rpm.

Re:Why the deviance? (5, Informative)

tgrimley (585067) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156394)

from the wikipedia [wikipedia.org] link:

"When all known forces acting on the spacecraft are taken into consideration, a very small but unexplained force remains. It causes a constant sunwards acceleration of (8.74 ± 1.33) × 10^-10 m/s2 for both spacecraft.

...

"Data from the Galileo and Ulysses spacecraft are also indicative of a similar effect, although for various reasons (such as their relative proximity to the Sun) firm conclusions cannot be drawn from these sources."

9 track tapes (4, Interesting)

wulfhound (614369) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156344)

Anyone care to shed any further light on what format these tapes are in, how many there are and in what condition?

I had a summer job a decade ago ripping 9-track tapes (geophys data) to CD-R (back when CD-Rs were $20 each and a burner was $5k!), pretty sure the people I did it for still have the gear. Planetary guys - I couldn't see a contact address on your page!

Re:9 track tapes (1)

laptop006 (37721) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156368)

As far as I can tell from the linked page they've already pulled the data off tape (or are doing it now), and are now just doing the analysis of the data.

9-track? (-1, Redundant)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156357)

Special computer to read 7 and 9-track tapes? Hell, I designed PC interfaces for these tape drives, until SCSI made me redundant.

Why not transfer the whole data to DVD and then sell copies of the DVD? NASA get to do their research, and other people get to analyse the data in new and interesting ways.

Re:9-track? (1)

helioquake (841463) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156572)

Why not transfer the whole data to DVD and then sell copies of the DVD? NASA get to do their research, and other people get to analyse the data in new and interesting ways.

Selling? First, they are making these data files freely available for download. Second, these data sets contain no cool image or anything that tickles fancy from Jane and Joe Sixpacks. So I'd expect less than 1000 copies would be sold if it were to be on the market.

And not that many engineers or scientists are qualified enough to entangle a problem like this. This is one of those precision engineering at first, and then science next.

For those who are wondering about the high cost....for hiring two good engineers for full-time year (two FTEs), it would cost over 150K (incl. a typical NASA overhead). The rest goes to hardware and administration. Yeah, it'd be nice if every qualified individual jumps in to study what goes on with the Pioneer datasets. That'd be neat and cheap. But that's just some utopian thought that is unlikely to materialize (I'm sure there are more crackpot *self-acclaimed* theorists who would come forward to explain away this anomaly from philosophical standpoint).

Re:9-track? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156599)

...until SCSI made me redundant.

Seems that the moderators agree.

Why $250,000? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156358)

It seems that most of the urgency of this could be avoided simply having NASA copy the tapes and the programs that read the tapes to some other system.

That way the data can be analyzed by the nearest interested astrophysicist / doctoral candidate.

That doesn't seem like such an expensive process. A couple hundred tapes copied to disk couldn't be that expensive. Setup a script to do it and cut it loose. A weeks worth of moderately attended sysadmin duties at most.

At that point all you have to do is have NASA put the data on an FTP server.

So what's the $250,000 for. Damn, send some of this work my way.

Why isn't NASA doing this itself? (1)

bcmm (768152) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156361)

This is clearly very important data which it would be criminal to just throw away. It's taken 30 years and god knows how much money to gather it all. So why doesn't NASA care about it? Is it putting all it's money into manned exploration (shuttle replacement, Mars, etc.)?

Pay up! It's science! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156363)

I donated. How about you?

Aliens! (1)

EvilMonkeySlayer (826044) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156370)

I knew it, they all said I was mad to believe.

They all said I was mad to live in a small hut in the forest with my tinfoil hat, but i've proven them wrong now!

All you people with your pitiful belief in "physics", don't you see it's all a conspiracy?!

Business proposal (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156386)

They have 3 million USD and they are willing to give the extra amount to you as a thank you for your help. Only problem is that the 3 MUSD is stuck in a Nigerian bank and they need some help getting it out. They just need some cash up front to process the transaction. All you need to do is to send them your bank details and some money and soon you will receive 2.75 million dollars for your help :-P

So in short (5, Insightful)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156392)

The Planetary Society is planning on recovering this data and poring over it meticulously to look for something which may have been missed or hidden from current investigations into the phenomenon. They need money to do this, about $250,000, and are asking for donations to fund the project.

Let me sum up: the USA boldly sends a probe in space, at a very great cost to taxpayers. Some decades later, NASA is forced to scrap the only computer that can access the unique (and very expensive) data collected by said probe, because the administration refuses to fund them properly.

That's sad enough, but the saddest thing is: a bunch of passionate guys (the planetary society) are begging a measly quarter million bucks to save that priceless data, and the administration just stands there! That's like the cost of running a humvee for a week in Iraq or something. How does that look to the outside world? like a decrepit country where non-profit orgs are forced to take matters into their own hands to save their national treasures. Well done USA :-(

Re:So in short (1)

amliebsch (724858) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156518)

like a decrepit country where non-profit orgs are forced to take matters into their own hands to save their national treasures.

Imagine that! A place where citizens create their own civil society through voluntary association!

Nah, it'll never work.

Re:So in short (2, Interesting)

isa-kuruption (317695) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156566)

Let me sum up: the USA boldly sends a probe in space, at a very great cost to taxpayers. Some decades later, NASA is forced to scrap the only computer that can access the unique (and very expensive) data collected by said probe, because the administration refuses to fund them properly.


Actually, Congress allocates funding for NASA and thus is responsible for the lack of funds. You should contact your local Senate and House representatives if you wish to continue research in this area.

However, please note that due to beaurocracy alone, the cost of NASA performing this research is on the order of twenty times larger than an exterior organization which uses primarily volunteers and college students and collects money via donations and/or selling T-shirts.

$250k!? (1)

RingDev (879105) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156393)

Intern + DVD Burner + 50 DVDs (not sure how much data is on those old tapes) = $500 + $15k/year.

NASA is mothoballing their comp, so pick it up and swap, get an intern to switch tapes and disks, a low end PC with solitare, mine sweeper, and DVD burning software, and viola!

Take $50k for management, organization, and design of the process and a year later you have the whole thing on DVDs and an intern who can beat the large board of mine sweeper in 45 seconds.

-Rick

Re:$250k!? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156606)

so tell me smartypants.

where do you get a dvd burner for a cray 2?

sorry it dont have your fancy smanchy USB port on it.

maybe know nothings like you might figure out that real computers are nothing like the crap you have at home.

WTF! (1)

MatD (895409) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156395)

They are talking about reading this data like it's encrypted with blowfish, and they are deleting the key. How hard can it be to read that tape data? I can't imagine that data from back that was stored in a very complicated format.
Even if the media was of a propriatary format, it couldn't be that hard to create a reader for it.
Come on people, it's not like this is rocket scien....Um, never mind.

Why dismantle the computer (1)

coflow (519578) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156400)

Does anyone know why NASA is dismantling the computers if there really is such a potential treasure-trove of knowledge on these tapes? It seems like NASA would be interested in the same type of discoveries that TFA anticipates....

Re:Why dismantle the computer (4, Interesting)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156503)

Does anyone know why NASA is dismantling the computers if there really is such a potential treasure-trove of knowledge on these tapes?

My guess is the operating cost. Those old machines are very VERY costly to run, between the power they need, the special rooms, and the ridiculous MTBF of the componentry that's measured in dozens of minutes.

But still, I agree. Scrapping the computer on that reason alone is forgetting the hundreds of millions spent on sending the probe out in space in the first place.

Re:Why dismantle the computer (4, Interesting)

Bazman (4849) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156525)

Possibly because the computer is the size of a large room, the tape drive is half the size of a car, and the air-conditioning for it is in danger of melting. Maybe.

When I was a physicist we had a DEC VAX with a tape drive, it took a whole room, and probably had less power than my laptop. Tape drives are not small things.

Why not let people donate their time instead. (-1, Offtopic)

joncue (541265) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156401)

I, for one, don't like the idea of giving my money to anyone. But I don't mind letting them use my computer to assist with the analysis. Why can't they use the [insert pet project name here] model and just distribut the data to people willing to donate their time/technology to help analyze the data. It's already been done how many ever times, and they wouldn't have to go begging for the cash.

I'll tell you what the "anomaly" is. (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156404)

God's will. He doesn't want us exploring outside the solar system He gave us.

Unless the spacecraft is further out than we expect it to be... in that case, he is speeding the spacecraft along its holy path and he wants mankind to study more of the universe.

I call shenanigans (-1, Flamebait)

nerd256 (794968) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156410)

Why does it cost $250,000 to recover the data? This seems like a lot.

This amount enables us first to save the data from destruction, and then to support the complex analyses necessary to solve this mystery. We may well have to bring in more help from other eminent "celestial mechanicians" to provide fresh perspectives on the anomaly.


So they're not trying to save these machines from *gasp* destruction, they're claiming proprietary control over them. Why don't they download all the data, provide a torrent or FTP and let some bored people on the internet have some fun with it. That would justify some cost, but far less than a quarter-mil. I don't think this situation is as desperate as it sounds and I don't think this organization is as philantropic as it sounds.

Lots of other data (5, Interesting)

couch_warrior (718752) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156434)

If you think this data loss would be unfortunate, you should check out the Earth Resource Observing Satellite (EROS) Data Center run by the US Geological Survey in Sioux Falls South Dakota. For years NASA has been dumping all manner of data tapes there. 9-track, 24-track, literally hundreds of Terabytes of data. And many of those tapes are literally growing mold, sitting in boxes and racks in the basement, for lack of funding to transfer them to more permanent media.
Think about it, decades of climate data , going back to the 1970's, is being lost due to lethargy on the part of Clowngress. Or is it lethargy.
Let's see, three and a half decades of climate change data, detailed and explicit. Hmmmm.... who *wouldn't* want that data placed online where researchers could access it? I wonder.....

Nice to see "poring" spelled correctly! (-1, Offtopic)

Cryofan (194126) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156435)

Now you may return to your normal nonsense. My Rightwing stalkers will of course mod me down....as per usual...

Why not? (2, Insightful)

quark007 (765762) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156456)

Why is there a big hoopla about Planetary society raising meager $250,000?

You need money to carry out research.
NASA obviously doesn't care much about basic sciences, and is quite busy wasting tax dollars [nasa.gov] in 'spectacular' but dumb and useless shuttle launches.

Planetary society is atleast trying to make some sense. Why not help them?

What about the hardware itself? (3, Informative)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156489)

Does anyone have any idea what these machines are or whether they can be saved from the scrapper?

As for the data, a lot of people here seem to be really naive about how hard it is to recover old data like this. "Just download it onto a hard disk." Well, yeah, but the trick is getting working 9-track drives (relatively easy) and 7-track drives (much harder) and going through the effort required to ensure you get the data off successfully instead of destroying it. (Remember, these tapes are very old and probably extremely fragile, and you may only get one shot at recovering the data.)

AHA!!! (-1, Flamebait)

shrubya (570356) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156495)

Anamoly? Of course they'll try to hand-wave it away as a minor nothing. No, it's yet another clear proof that their so-called theory of heliocentricity is WRONG.

Pioneer flies along that path because its Designer chose Intelligently to do so. Case closed.

tinfoil? (1)

flibberdi (800264) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156540)

I read somewhere about the pioneer anomaly [autodynamicsuk.org], but to be honest, this theory seem to complicated for my brainwashed eh...brain..

Another Reason (0)

lbmouse (473316) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156542)

The reason for the anomaly may be as mundane as uneven radiation pressure or escaping thruster fuel or it may be as groundbreaking as a clue to completely new physics, perhaps related to dark matter or dark energy.

Or maybe my mother-in-law is driving.

GPL the Data (1)

afroncio (629866) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156564)

It would certainly interest readers of /. a lot more if the data were GPL'd. I don't see any reason why data like this shouldn't be accessible to all.

What (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13156570)

a waste of money!!!

A worthy cause, but $250,000.00?? (2, Interesting)

gwait (179005) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156575)

Yes, it's not a lot of cash in the scheme of things,
but why the hell won't NASA just donate the computer and tapes to a university? If they're going to toss it in the trash, they should be interested in giving it away for free. Put the data on the Web for all, and we're done. In fact NASA themselves should be able to do this inside of a week or two, presumably they know how to read these tapes themselves..
I don't see where anyone needs to raise $250K..??
Please explain yourselves, planetary society types..

Nah-SA (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156584)

It is insane that NASA can spend billions on several years of exploding and cancelled Shuttle launches, including millions putting talking NASA heads on TV, but can't spend $250K to recover that invaluable Voyager data. It costs more than $250K for NASA just to throw away the old machines! It's obvious from stunts like this that NASA is primarily a welfare job for aerospace contractors, and secondarily a mask for military Star Wars missions. Way down the list, below "take out the garbage", is "science".

Frame dragging (2, Interesting)

CarlJagt (877688) | more than 8 years ago | (#13156590)

Easy, its frame dragging on a large, solar system scale. We only see hints of it now because of the large distances the Pioneers have travelled.

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