The Social Life of Spacecraft: Organization and Collaboration on Robotic Spacecraft Teams
Link-Cotsen Fellow at the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, Princeton University
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 4:00pm
Newell Simon Hall 1305 (Michael Mauldin Auditorium)
Robotic spacecraft appear to be singular entities operating autonomously in the frontiers of space, but in fact decisions about what these robots should do and how they should accomplish their science are made behind the scenes by a large team of scientists and engineers on Earth, themselves distributed across institutions and continents. As members of the spacecraft team negotiate with each other for robotic time and resources, the team’s sociotechnical organization is central to understanding how decisions are made, how science “gets done,” and how the robot operates. In this talk, I present empirical data from a comparative ethnographic study of two robotic spacecraft teams—the Mars Exploration Rover mission and the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn—to show how organizational practices present implications for our studies of and designs for sociotechnical collaborations.
Janet Vertesi is a sociologist of science and technology at Princeton University, where she is Link-Cotsen Fellow at the Society of Fellows and a lecturer in the Sociology Department. Her research focuses on the complex intersections between people, science, and technological systems: especially the role of digital images in science, the organization and coordination of distributed robotic spacecraft teams, transnational technologies, and critical approaches to HCI. Vertesi holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University in Science & Technology Studies, where she was a member of Phoebe Sengers’ Culturally Embedded Computing research group; holds a Master’s degree from Cambridge University in History and Philosophy of Science and prior to arriving at Princeton, was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Irvine’s Informatics Department with Paul Dourish. Her papers at CHI, CSCW and Ubicomp cover a range of topics from the London Underground Map as user interface to the city, to the context of production in data economies, to the commodification of location in GPS tracking. More information and publications are at http://janet.vertesi.com/