History, Technology

Scrap dealer finds Apollo-era NASA computers in dead engineer’s basement

A pair of Apollo-era NASA computers and hundreds of mysterious tape reels have been discovered in a deceased engineer’s basement in Pittsburgh, according to a NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Most of the tapes are unmarked, but the majority of the rest appear to be instrumentation reels for Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, NASA’s fly-by missions to Jupiter and Saturn.

The two computers are so heavy that a crane was likely used to move the machines, the report concluded.

At some point in the early 1970s, an IBM engineer working for NASA at the height of the Space Race took home the computers — and the mysterious tape reels. A scrap dealer, invited to clean out the deceased’s electronics-filled basement, discovered the computers. The devices were clearly labelled NASA PROPERTY, so the dealer called NASA to report the find.

Please tell NASA these items were not stolen, the engineer’s heir told the scrap dealer, according to the report. They belonged to IBM Allegheny Center Pittsburgh, PA 15212. During the 1968-1972 timeframe, IBM was getting rid of the items so [redacted engineer] asked if he could have them and was told he could have them.

You can read the entire report; the engineer’s identity has been redacted — Ars Technica UK

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