Working on Mars

Working on Mars

Voyages of Scientific Discovery with the Mars Exploration Rovers

By William J. Clancey

What it's like to explore Mars from Earth: How the Mars rovers provide scientists with a virtual experience of being on Mars.

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What it's like to explore Mars from Earth: How the Mars rovers provide scientists with a virtual experience of being 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.

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.

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Out of Print ISBN: 9780262017756 328 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 25 color illus., 24 b&w illus.


$21.00 T ISBN: 9780262526807 328 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 25 color illus., 24 b&w illus.


  • 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 exploration 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, 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 well—not 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, 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 it—and 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