Working on Mars
Geologists in the field climb hills and hang onto craggy outcrops; they put their fingers in sand and scratch, smell, and even taste rocks. Beginning in 2004, however, a team of geologists and other planetary scientists did field science in a dark room in Pasadena, exploring Mars from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) by means of the remotely operated Mars Exploration Rovers (MER). Clustered around monitors, living on Mars time, painstakingly plotting each movement of the rovers and their tools, sensors, and cameras, these scientists reported that they felt as if they were on Mars themselves, doing field science. The MER created a virtual experience of being on Mars. In this book, William Clancey examines how the MER has changed the nature of planetary field science.
NASA cast the rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, as “robotic geologists”, and ascribed machine initiative (“Spirit collected additional imagery...”) to remotely controlled actions. Clancey argues that the actual explorers were not the rovers but the scientists, who imaginatively projected themselves into the body of the machine to conduct the first overland expedition of another planet. The scientists have since left the darkened room and work from different home bases, but the rover-enabled exploration of Mars continues. Drawing on his extensive observations of scientists in the field and at the JPL, Clancey investigates how the design of the rover mission enables field science on Mars, explaining how the scientists and rover engineers manipulate the vehicle and why the programmable tools and analytic instruments work so well for them. He shows how the scientists felt not as if they were issuing commands to a machine but rather as if they were working on the red planet, riding together in the rover on a voyage of discovery.
About the Author
William J. Clancey is Chief Scientist at the Human-Centered Computing Division in the Intelligent Systems Division at NASA Ames Research Center, and Senior Research Scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.
“Working on Mars provides an enlightening look at running a robotic exploration mission like Spirit and Opportunity–and now Curiosity–and its implications for the future of space eiloration itself.”— Jeff Foust, The Space Review
“We hear about the Mars science that has come from the MER mission and the amazing engineering of the rovers. But William Clancey gives us a new perspective: how the humans on Earth worked together to operate the rover on Mars. It's a rare view ‘behind the curtain’ and provides insight that can inform future exploration of Mars.”
—Chris McKay, NASA Ames Research Center
“William Clancey provides an important philosophical as well as technical perspective for future tele-robotic missions to the Moon and planets. I strongly recommend Working on Mars to those who will work there in person as well as those who will continue to operate scientific robots from Earth.”
—Harrison H. Schmitt, Apollo 17 Astronaut, Former U.S. Senator, Aerospace Consultant
“Working on Mars is chock full of insights about the nature of remote science and presence, much of it beautifully and accessibly written. William Clancey has not only done the painstaking ethnographic observation, but incorporated it with critical thinking about how science and exploration are organized, both cognitively and socially. This book could not have been more interesting and exciting to read, and I'm sure it will be to a number of audiences as wellnot least of them scientists and engineers themselves involved in these kinds of missions.”
—David Mindell, Director, Program in Science, Technology, and Society, MIT, and author of Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight
“When we conceived the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, it became our science project, the thing we wanted to do on Mars. Little did we know that we would in turn become someone else's science project! William Clancey watched MER as it unfolded. He did it from the inside, but with an outsider's perspective. The result, Working on Mars, is a marvelous description not just of what we did, but of how we did itand why we did it the way we did. Anyone who wants to understand how this fiendishly complicated mission worked, and why it worked, should read this book.”
—Steve Squyres, Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University; Principal Investigator, Mars Exploration Rovers Mission
Winner, 2014 Gardner-Lasser Aerospace History Literature Award given by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics