Seeing Like a Rover brings the Mars Exploration Rover mission to vivid life through the author's years of immersion with the team during routine operations on Mars.
In the book, Janet Vertesi explores the social and technical achievements of making knowledge about Mars based on iterative digital representations of its surface. We see how scientists on the Rover mission both perform the digital transformations that bring new features in their images to light, enabling discovery, as well as how they collectively interpret images to determine where the Rovers are located on Mars and what they should do next.
Using her close study of digital imaging, which exhibits a sensitivity to the social context of scientific work, Vertesi discusses how representation on the mission is never about finding a single way of truthfully representing Mars. Representation is instead, she argues, a question of using image processing techniques strategically to reveal and conceal different features of the planet's surface, and of bringing these multiple representations together to make both knowledge and collective decisions about exploration on the Red Planet.
Seeing Like a Rover speaks to many themes that are familiar to historians, sociologists, and philosophers of science. Issues such as trust among knowledge-making teams, the different epistemic status and practices of the lab and the field, and the heritage of visual languages in an emerging discipline are just as relevant in other periods and places. Moreover, by revealing how representational practices craft social visions, Vertesi develops a framework that can be applied to scientific imaging across a variety of time periods and scientific contexts.