It's taken four and a half years, but the data recovery specialists charged with extracting data from a cracked, charred 400MB Seagate drive aboard the ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia have done their duty, retrieving 99% of the information written to the disk. The Columbia burned up on re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, over Louisiana and Texas. Computerworld reports that the drive was found in a dry lakebed and handed to a team at Kroll Ontrack about six months after the tragedy, but the successful recovery has only just come to light. So, you ask, what was on the drive that was so important?
Computerworld reports that the shuttle mission included conducting atmospheric tests:
One of those tests was an experiment for the National Institute of Standards and Technology to determine how xenon gas flows in a zero gravity environment.
Phew, glad they recovered that data. No, seriously, it's apparently very valuable information. To someone. In fact, researchers just released the data in an academic publication.
The drive, already eight years old at the time of the mission, took a beating in the crash, and took another beating during recovery. Stripped down to the platter alone, it was placed in another mechanism and "carefully aligned" with a new motor. As it spun, it sustained more damage, but didn't crap out before Kroll could get the goods. More gory details, and a lot of great pictures, are over at Computerworld.
I know, I know: Why don't they make the shuttle out of the same material they make the drive? The non-standup-comedian answer is that two other drives on the shuttle were completely unrecoverable, so there's definitely a luck element here. [Computerworld]