Information Systems & Data Recovery in Space3 min read

Have you ever wondered about the intersection of data recovery, information systems, and data science in astronomy and space exploration? Astronauts must work with whatever systems they are given, regardless of the age of their spaceship. For example, they may be tasked with recovering data that is difficult to extract due to damage or memory loss.

Here are a few current and future trends in information technology for astronauts and ground-based astronomers as well.

Data Recovery

Imagine being tasked with recovering data from a partially melted hard drive that has passed through the atmosphere. What would you do?

This is precisely what happened to Ontrack employees, who were asked to recover data from the Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated upon re-entry in 2003. The dust seal of the data media had suffered severe damage from heat and impact. However, because the data had been physically located in a part of the drive that remained luckily untouched, the Ontrack team was able to recover 99 percent of the data collected in space.

One other important aspect of data format is the metadata: according to Planetary, it is critically important to researchers that the RGB value of each pixel in a planetary image be unaffected by the way it is stored—and also that every image be associated with metadata.

According to a recent article on, the company Planet is planning to turn the volume of images it produces into data products, striving to contribute more insight and indexed information to our ongoing records of knowledge about physical change taking place on Earth. Their goal is to index Earth changes in the same way that Google indexes the information on the internet. It’s quite a lofty ambition, but likely worth the effort—considering how enriched we would stand to become from the possible knowledge gleaned as a result.

And to demonstrate that data theft is an ongoing concern, Japan’s space agency is currently investigating a data leak on its Epsilon rocket as the result of a computer virus. Apparently nobody is safe from hackers anywhere—even in space.

Information Systems

Space explorers and shuttles, such as those deployed by NASA, are currently utilizing GIS mapping systems to help improve climate and weather forecasts—specifically concentrating on forecasting crop yields in order to contribute information global famine early-warning systems.

Although it may seem information systems have been well utilized for a while, now, it’s really only been since the beginning of the 21st century that information scientists really considered individual organizations’ information needs. New methodologies provided many user benefits, including the reduced need for internal context and prior knowledge, faster consolidation of information, lower cognitive burden for end users, the ability to cater to a variety of cultural frameworks, and improved use of limited information science resources.

In more interplanetary mapping news, OnSight will work in conjunction with Microsoft’s HoloLens to enable scientists to explore the surface of Mars. OnSight will use real rover data to create a 3D simulated Martian environment; scientists will be able to virtually meet there from around the world, and NASA scientists can examine the rover’s worksite, in addition to planning new activities and previewing their work firsthand.

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Data recovery and information systems are still evolving, in the worlds of space exploration and elsewhere. However, security and data integrity remain crucial aspects of reliable data collection and retrieval.  

What have you found is helpful in reliable information systems and data recovery? Share your experience in the comments section below.


Avery Phillips is a freelance human based out of the beautiful Treasure Valley. She loves all things nature, especially humans, and was driven to pursue an Anthropology degree due to her childhood love of Indiana Jones and Laura Croft. Now she lovingly writes about all things great and small.

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