How does conducting fieldwork on another planet, using a robot as a mobile laboratory, change what it means to be a scientist? In Working on Mars: Voyages of Scientific Discovery with the Mars Exploration Rovers
(MIT Press, 2012), William J. Clancey
explores the nature of exploration in the context of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) missions of the first decade of the twenty-first century.
From 2002-2005 (and with additional interviews thereafter), Clancey led a group of computer and social scientists who acted as participant observers of the MER science team. The resulting book is a fascinating study of the scientists and engineers on the team, their living and working conditions, the relationship of their project to other exploratory and laboratory contexts in the history of science, and the implications of their work for current and future interplanetary missions. Working on Mars
beautifully uses rich ethnographic fieldwork to open up larger conceptual issues for the field of science studies, while never losing sight of the aesthetic, personal, and professional lives of MER scientists as individuals. Readers will learn about what it's like to live on local Mars time, how virtuality is crucial to the experience of MER scientists and engineers, what it means for a scientific team to share a robotic laboratory-body, and why understanding and communicating the poetics of this research may be crucial to realizing the goals of space exploration in the future. It is a wonderful, rich, and sensitively-wrought account.
Working on Mars
was recently awarded the Gardner-Lasser Aerospace History Literature Award by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Congratulations, Bill!