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Star Trek Creator's Floppy Disk Recoveries

Star Trek is a show that originally ran from 1966 to 1969, but went on to spawn countless series and films. It was a cultural phenomenon and is deeply ingrained in the hearts of many. The creator of the show was a man called Gene Roddenberry, who used to write his futuristic scripts on what we now see as antiquated – a typewriter.

Later, Roddenberry used a pair of custom computers, which he used to capture story ideas, write his script and jot down notes. He later went on to use mainstream computers, but kept those custom-built computers in his possession.

Roddenberry died in 1991, but his estate didn’t discover nearly 200 5.25-inch floppy disks of his until later. It was on these floppy disks that the show’s creator stored all of his work. One of his custom computers had been auctioned off long ago and the other had ceased to function.

However, the problem was that these were no ordinary floppies that you may have used back in the day. Indeed, the custom computers also had a custom operating system, along with special word processing software. This meant that modern methods prevented being able to read whatever was stored within the floppies.

To make things worse, about 30 of the disks were damaged due to deep gouges in the magnetic surface. However, it’s believed that the physical damage was mostly over empty parts of the disks.

Roddenberry Entertainment, the company that still runs today, retain a contract with LunaTech, an IT firm. They suggested that these disks be sent to DriveSavers, a data recovery specialist, to try and get the data back.

The floppies were sent to DriveSavers, though only a small number were sent at a time, hand-delivered for security reasons. They were also provided with the original computer, and their engineers worked to develop a way to extract the data. There was no guide for the computer, nor any documentation, which meant that they had to figure out the entire process themselves.

It was no easy feat, as you can imagine, and it took the DriveSavers team over three months to develop software that could read the disks. Despite being able to crack this, having to read the 200 disks took nearly a year to complete due to the tedious nature of the task.

In total, around 2-3 MB of data was recovered from the 200 floppies. That might seem like nothing in today’s terms, when a single picture can reach beyond that, but at the time document sizes were small. There was a lot of data that was recovered.

Of course, the question remains as to what data was stored on these floppies. Mike Cobb, DriveSavers director of engineering, was suitably tight-lipped on the subject.

“Lots of documents,” he said. When pushed for exactly what that meant, he expanded, “2016 just happens to be the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek, anything could happen, the world will have to wait and see.”

Certainly a tease, though there’s definitely an implication that we’ll be seeing some of these materials published in some form in the future.


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