Seeing like a Rover
How Robots, Teams, and Images Craft Knowledge of Mars
University of Chicago Press 2015
Janet Vertesi‘s fascinating new book is an ethnography of the Mars Rover mission that takes readers into the practices involved in working with the two robotic explorers Spirit and Opportunity. Based on two years of immersive ethnography from 2006-2008, Seeing like a Rover: How Robots, Teams, and Images Craft Knowledge of Mars (University of Chicago Press, 2015) focuses on the visuality of the mission, exploring “how scientists and engineers on Earth work with the digital images” sent by their robots to make sense of Mars and to work together to explore it. Vertesi proposes a way of understanding image-making practices as a kind of teamwork: learning to see like a rover, here, is an embodied, skilled, social achievement. Building on Wittgenstein’s notion of seeing as, Vertesi conceptualizes these imaging practices in terms of an analytic framework of drawing as: the Rover scientists “use digital tools to draw Mars as consisting of different kinds of materials or surfaces, with implications for future viewings and for team relations.” From mapping Mars to robot funerals, it’s a wonderful study for readers interested in space exploration, visual studies, sociology, and STS alike!