Assistant professor, Princeton University, Advisory member at the Data & Society Think/Do Tank in New York City
“The Social Life of Spacecraft: Social Organization and Technoscientific Work on NASA’s Robotic Spacecraft Teams”
How does social organization affect the conduct and practice of science? To explore this question, Vertesi presents empirical data from a comparative ethnographic study of work on two NASA robotic spacecraft mission teams. While the robots appear to be singular entities operating autonomously in the frontiers of space, decisions about what the robots should do and how they accomplish their science are made on an iterative basis by a large, distributed team of scientists and engineers on Earth. As spacecraft team members negotiate among themselves for robotic time and resources, their sociotechnical organization is paramount to understanding how decisions are made, which scientific data are acquired, and how the team relates to their robot. Describing the contrasting organizational practices, interaction rituals, and forms of talk by means of which decisions are made and consensus is achieved on both missions, Vertesi explores how sociotechnical organization presents implications for team solidarity, data sharing, and scientific results.
This talk is a Kaspar Naegele Memorial Lecture