Jon Edwards often manages what appears impossible. He has recovered precious data from computers wrecked in floods and fires and dumped in lakes. Now Edwards may have set a new standard: He found information on a melted disk drive that fell from the sky when space shuttle Columbia disintegrated in 2003.
“When we got it, it was two hunks of metal stuck together. We couldn’t even tell it was a hard drive. It was burned and the edges were melted,” said Edwards, an engineer at Kroll Ontrack Inc., outside Minneapolis. “It looked pretty bad at first glance, but we always give it a shot.”
During Columbia’s fateful mission, the drive had been used to store data from a scientific experiment on the properties of liquid xenon.
Most of the information was radioed to Earth during Columbia’s voyage. Edwards was able to recover the remainder, allowing researchers to publish the experiment in the April issue of a science journal, Physical Review E.
That led Kroll Ontrack to share details of its salvage effort.