The Social Life of Spacecraft

How do the many scientists and engineers who work on spacecraft mission teams decide what their robots should do next? My current work compares the Mars Exploration Rover mission with the Cassini Mission to Saturn to examine how the social and technical organization of spacecraft teams affects the work that these teams accomplish in space. I call this theme "The Social Life of Spacecraft."

My work on this project is sociological fieldwork, involving primarily immersive ethnography within the two teams, oral histories and interviews, and some archival studies. I'm interested in such topics as the organizational structures of scientific collaboratories, cyberinfrastructure to support radically distributed work (across many countries and two planets), transnational collaboration, and data sharing architectures. My paper (with Paul Dourish) on the value of data within scientific collaboration argues that how a collaboration shares data is contingent upon how it acquires that data in the first place: a thesis with important implications for how we build collaborative systems. I am currently investigating this and related topics with a team of researchers at Princeton University and at the University of California, Irvine: you can learn more about our work at our SpaceTeams website.

This work has been funded by three major grants. I am currently the PI on a collaborative NSF Socio-Computational Systems grant, shared with the University of California, Irvine's Informatics Department, to examine the Cassini mission's remote operations, transnational work, and data management practices. Initial mission fieldwork was conducted under an NSF Virtual Organizations as Sociotechnical Systems grant with Paul Dourish at the UC Irvine Informatics department. Funding for historical work was through the NASA History Office/History of Science Society Fellowship in the History of Space Science.

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