Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Data from Columbia's Hard Drive

Significant scientific research data has been successfully read from a hard drive recovered from the wreckage of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Needless to say the drive itself had undergone severe trauma.

The seeming-paradox of digital data's extreme vulnerability and remarkable persistence is one of my foundational concerns in Mechanisms. The book opens with a similar tale of data recovery from hard drives that were salvaged from the ruins of the World Trade Center. Mechanisms argues that the volatility of digital data is a function not of its inscriptive regimen (which is among the most durable and forensically replete we have ever created) but rather the increasing orders of abstraction that attend digital data in order to manipulate it in usable form--thus the book's central distinction between what I term forensic and formal materiality.

Thanks to Nathan Kalber for the tip.

Update: This CNN coverage adds some interesting details, including the fact that the drive's computer was running DOS, meaning that the data was written in one discreet area of the drive rather than scattered over multiple discontinuous sectors--which created the conditions necessary for localized physical trauma to miss the areas with stored information.

1 comment:

Nathan Kelber said...

I'm glad you dug up that extra information about the hard drive running DOS. It seems that the hard drive must have been custom-built for this purpose. A 400 MB drive is incredibly small for 2003 standards although quite capacious for storing data with DOS.