- Press Release
- Oct 31, 2023
Imation Completes Cleaning and Stabilization of Magnetic Tape Recovered From Shuttle Columbia’s Data Recorder
Imation Scientists Provide Technical Expertise Assisting in Recovery Of Valuable Data
Imation Corp. , a worldwide leader in data storage, completed the
cleaning and stabilization of the magnetic instrumentation tape recovered from
the space shuttle Columbia’s salvaged Orbiter Experiment Support System (OEX)
data recorder. The recorder, which stores sensor information about
temperature, aerodynamic pressure, vibrations and other data from hundreds of
sensor locations on the orbiter, operates only during launch and re-entry.
The OEX uses magnetic tape to record data that is not sent to the ground by
telemetry. Working for NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
and the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), Imation’s role had
previously been identified by NASA.
The OEX recorder, which had been recovered Wednesday in Texas, was
delivered to Imation’s Discovery Technology Center by NASA officials on
Friday. Imation scientists worked over the weekend to inspect and evaluate
the tape. The visual inspection was conducted using a proprietary non-
destructive process based on Imation’s extensive recording experience that
enabled Imation scientists to pinpoint the place on the tape where it had
stopped recording instrument data. In consultation with NASA officials, they
developed a process for cleaning and stabilizing the tape, which began on
Monday and concluded Tuesday. The cleaning process required Imation
scientists to immerse the tape in filtered, deionized water by hand, then dry
it. The tape was delivered to NASA on Tuesday for transfer to the Kennedy
Space Center in Florida where playback and dubbing of the data onto a new tape
will occur. According to NASA, the freshly-dubbed tapes will be sent to
Johnson Space Center in Houston and other facilities where analysis of the
data by NASA and the CAIB will occur.
“Imation is proud to employ our capabilities, facilities and expertise to
help NASA and the CAIB as they search for the cause of the Columbia tragedy,”
said Frank Russomanno, president, Imation’s Data Storage and Information
Management business. ” Imation’s data recovery expertise grows out of our
core competency built over 50 years in developing and manufacturing data
storage removable media. Our Discovery Technology Center, housing more than
300 technology scientists, is the only research and development facility in
the United States focused solely on removable data storage media.”
Following are answers to frequently asked questions concerning Imation’s
role in assisting NASA and the CAIB:
What has Imation’s role been with the Orbiter Experiment Support System
Imation has been working with the NASA team to clean and stabilize the
instrumentation tape recovered last Wednesday from the space shuttle. Imation
has worked in close interaction with NASA to prepare the tape so that NASA and
the Columbia Accident Investigation Board can recover and evaluate the data on
What are the qualifications and background of the scientists working on
The Imation Data Recovery team is assembled from the breadth and depth of
the magnetic and optical recording skill base as needed by the specific
recovery project. In the case of the Columbia disaster, the team was composed
of scientists and engineers with background and experience in the US security
community, the USAF, NASA and other DOD agencies. The skill sets included
Recording, Research & Development, Technical Service, Product Development
engineers, a Magnetic Head scientist, and a Government Contracts Manager with
a total of over 100 years of experience. In addition a Media Formulation
scientist and the Imation Analytical manager were called upon to consult on
specific issues. All members have participated in data recovery projects in
the past and brought to the current challenge a dedicated and innovative
spirit required to reach a successful conclusion.
What kind of tape is it?
The tape is 1-inch wide #799 instrumentation tape, which is a magnetic
data recording tape made specifically for aerospace and government
applications. The tape was mounted on two 14-inch reels, one supply reel of
unrecorded tape and a take-up reel for tape that had recorded information.
What did you find?
Imation received the OEX recorder Friday evening, March 21st, in our
research facility in Oakdale, Minn. Imation and NASA experts opened the
recorder in the lab on Saturday morning. Most of the tape was still intact on
both the supply reel and the take-up reel inside the device, but the tape had
broken between the two.
The visual inspection was conducted using a proprietary non-destructive
process based on Imation’s extensive recording experience that enabled Imation
scientists to pinpoint the place on the tape where it had stopped recording
A portion of the tape was stretched or wrinkled on both ends of the take-
up and supply reels, most of the tape was in fairly good condition on visual
inspection. There was some contamination inside the recorder from dirt and
water that had accumulated on the tape from its impact on the ground.
How was the tape cleaned?
Over the weekend, the scientists assessed the physical condition of the
tape and developed a plan for cleaning and stabilization of the tape to ensure
that recorded information could be retrieved with minimum errors. Working
with a NASA-approved approach that would minimize any chance of data loss, the
team began cleaning the tape by hand — immersing multiple times in a filtered
de-ionized water bath. The tape was then dried with a lint free cloth and
nitrogen, allowed to air-dry overnight, and wound to the appropriate tension
on the original hub with new flanges.
When will you be done?
The tape was transferred back to NASA at 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 25.
Did you read the tape?
No. Imation evaluated the tape and found that a very valid piece of media
had been recovered. Our role was to prepare it so that it was in condition
for NASA and the CAIB to review the data.
Why did NASA choose Imation?
In the weeks following the Columbia tragedy, Imation scientists consulted
with NASA scientists to develop a media recovery procedure. In addition, NASA,
as with virtually all other organizations handling large amounts of digital
information, is a customer for Imation data storage media products.
Imation with its 50-year legacy, as part of 3M Company, was the first to
develop magnetic data storage media. Imation, and previously 3M, served as
administrator of the National Media Laboratory, which was a consortium of
companies that support the information storage needs of the government. As a
result of this affiliation, NASA was familiar with Imation’s technical skills
in recorded media. Imation’s core competency in data storage media provides a
unique resource and expertise for this kind of work.
Has Imation participated in other data recovery efforts similar to this
Imation has, on occasion, worked with customers to help them in the
recovery of data on media that has been damaged. It is a capability that grows
out of our core competency of developing and manufacturing a broad range of
removable data storage media products, both magnetic and optical.
For further information about Imation, visit our web site at
Imation Corp., with data storage revenue of more than one billion dollars
in 2002, is a leading developer, manufacturer and supplier of magnetic and
optical removable data storage media. With one of the broadest product lines
in the industry-spanning from a few megabytes to hundreds of gigabytes of
capacity in each piece of media, Imation serves customers in more than 60
countries in both business and consumer markets. With more than 300 data
storage patents in the U.S. alone, Imation continues to pioneer today’s proven
magnetic and optical media technologies. As of December 2002, Imation
employed approximately 2,800 people worldwide. Revenues from outside the U.S.
contribute approximately 49 percent of total sales. Additional information
about Imation is available on the company’s website at www.imation.com, or by