Making Time on Mars
212 pp., 6 x 9 in, 30 figures
- Published: March 31, 2020
- Published: March 6, 2020
An examination of how the daily work of NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers was organized across three sites on two planets using local Mars time.
In 2004, mission scientists and engineers working with NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) remotely operated two robots at different sites on Mars for ninety consecutive days. An unusual feature of this successful mission was that it operated on Mars time—the daily work was organized across three sites on two planets according to two Martian time zones. In Making Time on Mars, Zara Mirmalek shows that this involved more than a resetting of wristwatches; the team's struggle to synchronize with Mars time involved technological and communication breakdowns, informal workarounds, and extra work to support the technology that was intended to support people. Her account of how NASA created an entirely new temporality for the MER mission offers insights about the assumptions behind the organizational relationship between clock time and work.
Mirmalek, herself a member of the mission team, offers an insider's view of the MER workplace and community. She describes the discord among MER's multiple temporalities and examines issues of professional identity that helped shape the experience of working according to Mars time. Considering time and work relationships through a multidisciplinary lens, Mirmalek shows how contemporary and historical human–technology relationships inform assumptions about the unalterability of clock time. She argues that the organizational connection between clock time and work, although still operational, is outdated.
In this engaging study of what it takes to make a habitable interplanetary workplace, Mirmalek shows us the exacting choreography required to sustain heroic human/robot collaborations, through the alignment of Earthly and Martian temporalities. This book has discoveries to offer to every interested reader, including scholars of work, organizations, and the embodied labors of science.
Lucy Suchman, author of Human-Machine Reconfigurations
How does time discipline—that mode of governing work ushered in by industrial modernity—look when it is stretched across interplanetary space? Mirmalek's illuminating, finely tuned study of NASA's Mars Rover mission will make readers reset their understandings of the time-space coordinates that organize scientific work, on Earth and beyond.
Stefan Helmreich, author of Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond