Fridge-sized tape recorder could crack lunar mysteries

By | November 11, 2008

Fridge-sized tape recorder could crack lunar mysteries

A 1960s tape recorder the size of a household fridge could be the key to unlocking valuable information from NASA’s Apollo missions to the moon.

An archiving error by NASA has meant 173 data tapes have sat in Perth for almost 40 years, holding information about lunar dust that could be vital in expanding science’s understanding of the moon.

But after almost four decades, a donation from a Sydney computer society looks set to breathe fresh life into a long-neglected field of lunar science.

The Apollo 11, 12 and 14 missions of the late 1960s carried “dust detectors” that were invented by Perth physicist Brian O’Brien. This information was beamed back to earth and recorded onto tapes.

Dr O’Brien had access to the tapes at Sydney University, but the couple of papers on moon dust he published with the preliminary findings failed to spark as much interest from the scientific community as he was hoping for.

“These were the only active measurements of moon dust made during the Apollo missions, and no-one thought it was important,” he said.

“But it’s now realised that dust, to quote Harrison Schmitt, who was the last astronaut to leave the moon, is the number one environmental problem on the moon.” … – abc

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