Working on Mars: Voyages of Scientific Discovery with the Mars Exploration Rovers

Reply Tue 11 Sep, 2012 09:29 am
Working on Mars: Voyages of Scientific Discovery with the Mars Exploration Rovers
by William J. Clancey

Book Description
Publication Date: August 31, 2012

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. NASA cast the rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, as "robotic geologists," and ascribed machine initiative ("Spirit collected additional imagery...") to remotely controlled actions. Clancey argues that the actual explorers were not the rovers but the scientists, who imaginatively projected themselves into the body of the machine to conduct the first overland expedition of another planet.

The scientists have since left the darkened room and work from different home bases, but the rover-enabled exploration of Mars continues. 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.

Editorial Reviews

"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, much of it 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

About the Author

William J. Clancey is Chief Scientist of Human-Centered Computing in the Intelligent Systems Division at NASA Ames Research Center, and Senior Research Scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.

More About the Author

William J. Clancey arrived on this planet in New Jersey, graduating as valedictorian from East Brunswick High School with honors in biology. Majoring in Mathematical Sciences at Rice University (BA, summa cum laude, 1974), he selected courses in thirteen departments, relating studies of cognition in philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, religion, and sociology. At Stanford University he received a PhD in Computer Science (1979) in the area of Artificial Intelligence, "Knowledge-Based Tutoring: The GUIDON Program."

Clancey has extensive experience in medical, educational, financial, and workplace computing. He co-founded Teknowledge and Modernsoft, and was founding member of the Institute for Research on Learning, founding Editor-in-Chief of AAAI/MIT Press, and a Senior Editor of Cognitive Science. He is a fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, Association for the Advancement of AI, and the American College of Medical Informatics.

On an appointment to NASA from the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (Pensacola), his team received the NASA Honor Award and the Johnson Space Center Exceptional Software Award for an "agent" system that automates all routine file transfers between the International Space Station and Mission Control in Houston. Clancey is an Eagle Boy Scout and has participated on many expeditions with NASA scientists planning missions to Mars. He enjoys speaking about space science in schools, museums, and to adult audiences; he has been an invited speaker in more than twenty countries.
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