Computer History Museum Records Technology History of IBM Magnetic Tape Storage

How IBM personnel made important contributions to low-cost bulk data storage and helped to solve the mystery of the Challenger disaster.

September 14, 2017 — Mountain View, CA

The Computer History Museum (CHM), the world's leading institution exploring the history of computing and its ongoing impact on society, today announced the recording of IBM Magnetic Tape storage technology.

After submersion in 100-feet of salt water for at least 38 days, magnetic tapes from the ill-fated 1986 Challenger space shuttle mission “looked like a piece of brie” cheese and were considered unrecoverable by NASA and its suppliers. How an accidental meeting with IBM engineers and scientists in Tucson led to the recovery of the data is told in one of a series of oral history recordings on tape storage technology made by CHM.

In the late 1970s IBM established Tucson, Arizona as its center of excellence for tape storage products. Interviews with personnel associated with the introduction of the 3480 cartridge-based system in 1984 and other ground breaking developments in magnetic tape storage have been transcribed and published on our website here.

Interviews held in Tucson in 2015 with eight former IBM executives resulted in 24-hours of personal reminiscences. Four sessions cover the history of tape media, products, and industry consortia. One session highlights the technical expertise of the Tucson team that recovered data from the Challenger tape.

Tape Media (CHM catalog number: 102737992)
Overview of tape products (CHM catalog number: 102737994)
IBM 3480 tape drive (CHM catalog number: 102738021)
Linear Tape Open (LTO) Consortium (CHM catalog number: 102738023)
Recovery of Challenger disaster tapes (CHM catalog number: 102738025)

Links to these documents are also posted at: “1984: Tape cartridge improves ease of use,” a page of the online exhibit The Storage Engine: A Timeline of Milestones in Storage Technology.

While essentially invisible even to computer professionals today, this pioneering work led to continued leadership of tape technology in low-cost bulk data storage.

About the Computer History Museum
The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, is a nonprofit organization with a four-decade history as the world’s leading institution exploring the history of computing and its ongoing impact on society. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computer history and is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, encompassing computer hardware, software, documentation, ephemera, photographs, and moving images.

The Museum brings computer history to life through large-scale exhibits, an acclaimed speaker series, a dynamic website, docent-led tours, and an award-winning education program. The Museum’s signature exhibition is “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing,” described by USA Today as “the Valley’s answer to the Smithsonian.” “Make Software: Change the World,” opened in 2017, illustrates the impact of software on the world through the stories of seven iconic and widely used applications. Other current exhibits include the “Where To? A History of Autonomous Vehicles,” “Thinking Big: Ada, Countess of Lovelace,” “The Trillion-Dollar Startup,” and demonstration labs featuring fully restored and working models of the DEC PDP-1 and the IBM 1401 systems. For more information and updates visit computerhistory.org.


Press Contacts:

Carina Sweet, csweet@computerhistory.org, (650) 810.1059