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Data Recovery From Melted Hard Drive

Data Recovery From Melted Hard Drive

Jon Edwards of Kroll Ontrack recovered data from a melted hard disk which fell from space.

Jon Edwards, an engineer at Kroll Ontrack Inc., outside Minneapolis, may have set a new standard in Data Recovery: He found information on a melted disk drive which had fallen from space when shuttle Columbia disintegrated in 2003.

In the past Edwards has recovered data from computers wrecked in floods and fires, but when it came to recovering the data from a melted hard drive which had been aboard the space shuttle Columbia, Edwards was pessimistic.

Data Recovered From Melted HDD

Data Recovered From Melted HDD

Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated in during re-entry into the atmosphere on Feb. 1st, 2003, scattering it debris – including the mangled disk drive – over Texas.

It was six months later when NASA sent the disk drive to Kroll Ontrack, which specializes in data recovery. Edwards’s recalls,

“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,

“It looked pretty bad at first glance, but we always give it a shot.”

Edwards had reason for his pessimism.

The drive’s metal and plastic elements were scorched and the protective seal on the side which keep out dirt and dust had also melted.

Without the protective seal, the disk drive was vulnerable to tiny particles which can scratch the materials inside rendering the ability to retrieve the binary data.

However, once the disk drive had been opened, Edwards found that spinning metal platters that store the endless amounts of 1’s and 0’s had not been warped. Although the platters had been gouged and pitted, the 340-megabyte drive was only half full and the damaged had occurred where the data had not yet been written.

In another lucky twist, Edwards explains that the ancient DOS operating system which the computer had been using, helped their efforts in recovering the data, because unlike more recent operating system’s which scatter data all over the drive, DOS stores data with a linear approach.

After cleaning the platters with a chemical solution, Edwards used them to build a new drive. The whole recovery process took two days and Edwards was able to captured 99% of the drives information.

Most of the information gathered by space shuttle Columbia was radioed back to Earth during the voyage however, the data stored on the melted drive was crucial in completing the results from a scientific experiment on the properties of liquid xenon.

The data that Edwards was amazingly able to recover, allowed researchers to publish the results of the liquid xenon experiment in the April issue of a science journal, Physical Review E.

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