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NASA Rack Mac IIfx - Official NASA mission flown Macintosh IIfx [JPG Warning]


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Phew!  OK, so, I kinda spilled the beans when I asked for help, but ... well, I had to ask for help.  So I want to thank @360alaska!  Not sure if I can thank him enough! :D  He just happened to be in Texas, and just happened to be about an hour from Houston.  Also, the U.S. just also happened to have one of the worst freak snow storms & power outages.  But he pulled through and was able to ship it out before having to head back to Alaska.

 

I also want to thank, of course, the NASA engineer who I'd been in contact for nearly a year trying to work out how to get it out to California.  I'll keep his name private out of courtesy, but thank you!  Not to brag or anything, but I also got some awesome exclusive pictures of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.  So I figure if anyone has a good excuse that they're too busy, it's someone working at NASA.

 

This particular Macintosh IIfx flew on a number of NASA missions back in the early 1990s.  It was installed in a NASA KC-135 airplane (the “Vomit Comet”) on a number of missions over the Texas Gulf for a period of about two years, requiring a ruggedized “rack mac” packaging (large reinforced rackmount case, custom power supply, etc.) It was then moved to a NASA lab where it utilized its National Instrument cards with Labview for a number of data acquisition tasks.  So this is an honest to goodness mission used Macintosh.  OK, so it didn't go into space like the Mac Portable, but I like to think it was still integral to the many programs at NASA, and is certainly the prize of my collection.

 

It has a couple of custom modifications.  As you can see, at least 1 wire running to an ADB slot.  I would imagine it's to simulate softpower from a keyboard.  The second wire I think just reroutes the microphone port, but I'm not sure where.  I'll have to look a little closer.  I LOVE the ignition key power supply. :cool:

 

So when he was testing the computer, he was running into occasional errors.  He tried troubleshooting the RAM and other things, but no go.  I told him to ship it anyway, I might be able to fix it.  Fast forward a year or so and I finally got it.  I took the NuBUS cards out to take a look and ... well, there it was.  One of the tantalum caps blew up spectacularly.   It's near the NuBUS slots, so I'm wondering if it could be the culprit.  I'm hoping nothing else is fried.  I'm going to try swapping out the cap this weekend and booting it up.  I'll post again when I do that.

 

I also plan on getting a cheap roller floor rack tower.  I have a rackmount 10/100 Netgear I found at WeirdStuff some years ago, as well as a rackmount Shiva FastPath that I also found at WeirdStuff (man I miss that place.)  So I'd like to set this sucker up as my server / router for my other vintage computers.  I'm going to install Apple Internet Router and make full use of the rackmount FastPath. :)  That way all my computers can get on the internet regardless if they have ethernet.  Should be fun.

 

 

By the way, if anyone here in the Bay Area is interested and has a video camera, I would love to lend the machine out to you so you can post a review.  I don't have the equipment or charisma to make a vlog, but I'd love for this machine to get up on YouTube #Marchintosh.  Feel free to Tweet these pictures.  I don't have a Twitter either.

 

 

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Edited by olePigeon
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Posted (edited)
On 3/11/2021 at 6:53 PM, olePigeon said:

Anyone know what size SIMMs those are?

Looks like 4MB simms - see

 

https://ram-co-shop.de/4-MB-Simm-30-pin-70-ns-9-Chip-4Mx9-Parity-Chips-9x-Goldstar-GM71C4100AJ70-g_1

 

Noting that the link is to a 4Mx9 parity simm, whereas the image above was an 8 chip (non parity) simm.

Edited by TimHD
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This is a very cool machine.

 

You should recap the machine, including the on-board tantalum caps.  That blown tantalum cap at C1 is concerning.  The reason I say that is because I have a IIfx that had a blown cap at C1 exactly like that.

 

When you do recap it, be sure to follow the recommendations of @JDW Here.  This issue doesn't just apply to SE/30 motherboards, but capacitor usage in general.  I would highly recommend a much higher value cap at least at C1 for sure, considering I've now seen this issue twice.

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This is awesome... I'm envious. I hope you can get it up and running and can demonstrate it for MARCHintosh.

 

P.S. - MARCHintosh isn't just YouTube videos. I've been blogging throughout MARCHintosh, and Tweeting my posts (along with trying to re-Tweet MARCHintosh content from other enthusiasts.) If you have a website/blog, you can still post. I'd be more than happy to share MARCHintosh content on my Twitter if you post this or anything else.

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@TimHD Awesome, thanks.  32MBs is sweet.  Better than the 8MBs you often see on them.

 

@MJ313  It's on the shipping label, but I'm at work at the moment.  If I remember correctly, it was over 50 pounds. :)  Get a workout carrying it.  I really hope to get it in working order.  Worse-case scenario I could use the motherboard out of my other IIfx with the damaged case, but then it wouldn't be a NASA IIfx. :sad:

 

@MrFahrenheit @JDW Looks like that C1 cap really blows. :o)  I'm gonna get some new caps this weekend from my local recycler.  I'll buy extra beefy rated caps, especially for C1.  Looks to be a not too uncommon point of failure.

 

@bigD  Appears that they added a heatsink.  From what I can tell the IIfx doesn't normally have one.

 

If the pictures looked a little weird and non-specific, I was attempting to take pictures of me disassembling it.  Didn't go so well.  The motherboard is mounted on a metal tray via plastic clips.  The tray itself is secured to the chassis via 8 screws on rubber shock absorbers.

 

The top cover to the case is nifty as it just has a bunch of locking screws I'd never seen before.  You just put the lid on and twist the screw 180 degrees either direction, and it locks in place.  So it's super easy to take apart.  Presumably so you can get to the cards and stuff.

 

It also has some parts on the side for server rails, but I don't know what kind.  Since I hope to mount it into a mobile floor rackmount chassis with a rear door, I shouldn't need rails.  I'll also finally have a reason to install my copy of Timbuktu.  I'm also gonna cut a HEPA filter to size for the front filter.

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Motherboard is recapped.  I gave the power supply a smoke test ... but nothin' doin'. :(  I'm going to take out the power supply and use my other IIfx as a test bench.  At least I can rule out the power supply and make sure the motherboard is working.  If the power supply is good, then it's somewhere else.  Could be a blown fuse.  I think it has an inline fuse on the modified power input.  I'll need to check all the wiring.  There're also custom PCBs for the power circuit.  I didn't think to check those for caps and replace them.  But first thing's first.  I'll check the mobo and power supply.

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Posted (edited)

Motherboard transplant successful!  My recap has brought it to life! :D  Gonna fiddle around, check the memory.  Also see if I can get additional memory onto the video card.  I found 4 sticks of 64 pin memory at the recycler of all places.  One looks like a standard SIMM, the other has capacitors on it.  Not like the GWorld that I've seen, the caps are off to the side.  But they are double-sided SIMMs, 70ns.  So faster than the 100ns.  Anyway, on to fiddling!

 

Next step is to troubleshoot the power supply.  I'm 50% the way there!

 

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Edited by olePigeon
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Very nice find! The Am29000 based Apple graphics is a hard nubus card to find. I've been looking for a long time, basically gave up when the last one on eBay went for astronomical prices. Supposedly that card works best in a IIfx.

The aviation-grade case is awesome. Don't change it. :) I really like the breakers they added on the power input. Any of the old data collection software left on the HDD? I'm assuming they were wiped.

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@IIfx Now that I know the motherboard is working, next step is the power supply.  I'll tackle  that tomorrow.  The HDDs were wiped, but the software was reloaded onto them.   I have a second box coming that may have the disks.  This sucker is staying in the rackmount chassis.  I aim to put it into something like this rackmount

 

I tested the video card marked "bad," and it appears to work.  *shrug*  It does have a repair on the backside of the card, so I wonder if it was indeed repaired and they didn't clean the marker off.  I put in the double-sided SIMMs I found at the store today.  The computer chimed, then death chimed when it tried to initiate the video card.  When I put regular IIfx RAM in the cards, the computer won't even boot.

 

I have to say, though, having never seen the 8•24 GC software load before ... IT'S MY NEW FAVORITE STARTUP ICON!   :lol:  The little rocket flying off the screen then landing again at the bottom.    I laughed out loud.  I'd never seen it before. :D

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22 hours ago, olePigeon said:

 

I have to say, though, having never seen the 8•24 GC software load before ... IT'S MY NEW FAVORITE STARTUP ICON!   :lol:  The little rocket flying off the screen then landing again at the bottom.    I laughed out loud.  I'd never seen it before. :D

 

I'd love to see either a video or animated GIF of that!

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23 hours ago, olePigeon said:

I have to say, though, having never seen the 8•24 GC software load before ... IT'S MY NEW FAVORITE STARTUP ICON!   :lol:  The little rocket flying off the screen then landing again at the bottom.    I laughed out loud.  I'd never seen it before. :D

I laughed out loud the first time I saw this too, so much character!

 

If you run Conflict Catcher with the label text enabled it produces the whole flight animation in place, a bizarre effect.

 

Very cool to have two working GC cards, though not so useful in the same system as one will essentially become a Display Card 8•24, receiving slave block transfers from the other one. Figured the only reason they were together was one is 'bad' but nice bonus! :)

 

Death-chime and no-power were both symptoms I had when trying IIfx-compatible SIMMs in the GC.

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Here're some pictures of my rework job.  Also is a picture of the custom power circuit board.  I think it helps make the ignition key work for power-on.  I was wondering if it could be adapter so you could turn on a Quadra 900/950 with the key. :)

 

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19 hours ago, olePigeon said:

@JDW  Hah.  Sorry, the HDDs weren't attached.  I got so excited I wanted to make the video.  I'll make a new video with the 8•24 GC control panel loading. :)

 

Thanks.  I look forward to that video.

 

By the way, it certainly was thoughtful of Apple engineers to add extra PCB pads so one could use an SMD aluminum electrolytic capacitor instead of an SMD tantalum. With the original C1 Tantalum burned, you only needed to add an aluminum electrolytic on the alternate pads.  Nice.  It's almost like Apple knew the tantalum would burn down at some point!

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Posted (edited)

The HDDs currently have System 7.5 loaded, which is causing some interesting artifacts.  I'm going to back up the drives and load System 7.1 onto it.  I finally have a use for my black IIfx SCSI terminator.  Never thought I'd get to use it.

 

I also only just noticed that the ribbon cable (which can have two devices, just like the custom power cable) has a special connector on the end.  I was wondering if it was a terminator, but it seems too small.

 

Edit:  Oh, you can see it still stuck in the pictures above.

 

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Edited by olePigeon
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@MJ313  I'm guessing it was a loose cable or a short or something.  I took everything apart, plugged it all back in.  Make sure everything was tight and snug.  I also reflowed the solder on the wire that goes to the ADB port and ground.  Between those two things, it started working. :D

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I was kind of fearing the worst considering the life it's lived, so it's great it was an easy fix--

I too am interested in viewing an extended version of the launch sequence if and when you get to it!

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