Fall 2008 Update

Thanks to the Fellowship in the History of Space Sciences, jointly awarded by the NASA History Office and History of Science Society, I am in residence this fall as a researcher at NASA Ames Research Center, joining my friends and colleagues in the Intelligent Systems Division. I also have a concurrent appointment as a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Science, Technology and Society program. Here, I am embarking on a project extended from my dissertation research: what is the relationship between the social organization of spacecraft teams and the operation and management of spacecraft resources?

This question arises from my dissertation work on the visual technologies on the Mars Rover Mission, which operates by consensus using a very flat hierarchy. But apparently this wasn't always the case, so I am digging into the rich history of NASA's unmanned space exploration program, including such missions as the Vikings, Mariner, Voyager and Galileo, to get a better sense of the historical context of the Mars Rover mission as I've observed it for the last three years. As Ames was also involved in an ethnography of the Rover mission in the early phases of its development and operation, I am also using the opportunity to learn all I can about how this well-honed structure of operations came about. Digging through the boxes of archival paperwork on Viking or leafing through 1960's NASA managerial and HCI handbooks, the historian of science in me is excited to be back in the archives again!

I am also delighted to announce that my NSF grant under the Virtual Organizations as Sociotechnical Systems program has been approved; so early next year I will start working as a postdoctoral scholar under Paul Dourish at the University of California, Irvine. Here I will continue the same research trajectory into the relationship between the social and technical organization of spacecraft systems and robotic space science -- what Charlotte Lee et al. have called "the human infrastructure of cyberinfrastructure" -- but with increasing focus on contemporary or developing missions.

As I am also currently finishing up my dissertation in addition to getting knee deep in a new research project, I am keeping travel this semester to an all-time low. Following field work with the next generation Rovers, the Mars Science Laboratory, at the team's landing site meetings in September, I am also participating at workshop on Designing Cyberinfrastructure to Support Science at the ACM conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, in San Diego this November. And then of course, it's back to Ithaca this winter to defend the dissertation ...