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


A pair of Apollo-era NASA computer systems and lots of of mysterious tape reels have been found in a deceased engineer’s basement in Pittsburgh, in accordance with a NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report launched in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Most of the tapes are unmarked, however the majority of the remaining look like instrumentation reels for Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, NASA’s fly-by missions to Jupiter and Saturn.

The two computer systems are so heavy crane was probably used to maneuver the machines, the report concluded.

Enlarge / Lots of blinky purple lights. Does it go “bing!” too?


At some level within the early 1970s, an IBM engineer working for NASA on the peak of the Space Race took house the computer systems—and the mysterious tape reels. A scrap vendor, invited to scrub out the deceased’s electronics-filled basement, found the computer systems. The gadgets had been clearly labelled “NASA PROPERTY,” so the vendor known as NASA to report the discover.

“Please tell NASA these items were not stolen,” the engineer’s inheritor instructed the scrap vendor, in accordance with the report. “They belonged to IBM Allegheny Center Pittsburgh, PA 15212. During the 1968-1972 timeframe, IBM was getting rid of the items so [redacted engineer] asked if he could have them and was told he could have them.”

You can learn all the report; the engineer’s id has been redacted.

“Please tell NASA these items were not stolen.”

NASA investigators picked up the 325 magnetic knowledge tape reels on December eight, 2015. The cassettes measured 14 inches in diameter and had been full of half-inch magnetic tape. The tapes “were in poor condition and almost all were affected by moderate to severe mould.”

Most of the tapes weren’t labelled, however “of the tapes that were labelled, the content appeared to be space science related with missions including Pioneer and Helios and the inclusive date range was 1967-1974.”

NASA instructed the household of the deceased that it was not within the junk elimination enterprise. “No, we do not need the computers,” NASA instructed the household of the deceased. “We have no use for [them].”

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

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

I carried out an preliminary evaluation of the fabric on December 10, 2015. This evaluation confirmed the approximate variety of 325 magnetic knowledge tape reels that every measured 14″ in diameter with a magnetic tape dimension of ½” and contained by a steel reel. The evaluation additionally confirmed that the magnetic tapes had been in poor situation and virtually all had been affected by reasonable to extreme mould, which is recognized as a well being threat. Most of the tapes weren’t labelled and of the tapes that had been labelled, the content material gave the impression to be area science associated with missions together with Pioneer and Helios and the inclusive dates vary was 1961-1974. A last evaluation of the tapes on April three, 2016 additional broke down of the content material of the tapes into the next:

PN8 [Pioneer 8]: 1 reel

PN9 [Pioneer 9]: 2 reel

PN10 [Pioneer 10): 40 reels

PN11 [Pioneer 11]: 53 reels

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

HESA [possibly an abbreviation for Helios A]: 2 reels

Intelsat IV: 2 reels

Unlabelled or labelled with out mission-related figuring out data: roughly 215 reels

The archivist’s last suggestion: Destroy the tapes. “There is no evidence that suggests this material is historically significant… I recommend disposal through the immediate destruction of all magnetic tapes.”

Contract? What contract?
Enlarge / Contract? What contract?


After all of the investigation, one last thriller remained unsolved. The NASA computer systems are labelled with a Contract Number: “CONTRACT NO. NAS5-2154.” NASA OIG was unable to search out any information of any such contract. Given NASA as soon as by accident erased the Apollo 11 moon touchdown tapes, maybe that should not come as a lot of a shock.

We contacted the NASA OIG for any more information, however a spokesperson mentioned they don’t have any additional remark past the outcomes of the FOIA request.

Now learn: The hell of Apollo 1: Pure oxygen, a single spark, and dying in 17 seconds

This publish originated on Ars Technica UK

Listing picture by NASA

Leave a Reply