A Western Australian data recovery company may seem an unlikely resting place for tapes about NASA experiments on the lunar surface during the 1969 Apollo 11 and 12 moon landings. Truth, however, can sometimes be stranger than fiction.
SpectrumData CEO, Guy Holmes, said a number of the original data tapes were misplaced by NASA, but it was discovered that copies had been provided to Australian physicist, Dr Brian O'Brien.
"As the inventor of a device that was gathering data on the moon, NASA was sending copies of that data to Brian," he said. "He kept these 200 tapes, first in Sydney and then later at Curtin University here in WA."
O'Brien's device was part of the Lunar Dust Detector Experiment, recording what happened at the site of the lunar landing. It was also being used after NASA astronauts had taken the lunar module back to Earth.
The data is believed to be the only long term information available on the environment of the lunar surface and, as such, will be critical in planning future moon missions.
SpectrumData met with O'Brien to take possession of the tapes and subsequently archived them for free. Holmes said the company's largesse stemmed from his own personal interest in the project as a fellow physicist. Holmes claimed his business was one of the few organisations worldwide with the necessary equipment to read the tapes at all.
"We have about 150 different tape drives from the 1960s to the present day. There's every chance NASA would have come to us anyway when the tapes were found," he said. "But in terms of money, after meeting Brian and seeing the glimmer in his eyes when he spoke about what he's done in his life, I didn't need any convincing to get this data back for nothing." Holmes said SpectrumData recovered 120,000 tapes during 2006.
SpectrumData is now working through pulling the data off the NASA tapes. Holmes said the 200 tapes would easily fit on a single DVD. A formal handover ceremony, involving NASA, is now being planned in Perth.