Collaboration, Tool Use, and Work Practice of Mars Mission Scientists


Roxana Wales and Alonso Vera, NASA Ames Research,

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University May 14, 2004

Before the MER rovers landed on Mars, our team spent three years doing research on and participating in the design of work process and tools for the mission. Pre-mission influences and tests were the basis for our assumptions when making recommendations for work process design and for our design decisions for certain mission tools. The activities and processes we have observed during the actual mission often did not match our expectations of what the work would look like. What did we miss in making our design decisions? Perhaps more importantly, what did we take as bedrock from our observation of pre-mission events that turned out to be subject to change during mission operations? Even with a great deal of user interaction/feedback and in-situ research, it remains challenging to get things right when designing tools and processes to a model of what we think events will look like as opposed to designing tools and processes for on-going operations. We will talk about the real-time mission drivers that affected and changed the MER mission. Focusing on the tools and work practice of the daily science analysis period, we will explore the confounding variables in our research.

Roxana Wales is a human-centered computing Research Scientist with SAIC at the NASA Ames Research Center. She is an ethnographer who is especially interested in applying the method in technological settings to reveal explicit as well as implicit information that is essential for creating better work systems and supporting technologies within expert domains. She has spent three and a half years working on the design of surface operations for the Mars Exploration Rovers Mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and has worked on projects at NASA's Johnson Space Center within Mission Control for both the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle. She also conducted a two and a half year ethnographic study of airline operations and airline delays at a major airline. Roxana has a Ph.D. in cultural psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Alonso Vera received a PhD in Psychology from Cornell University in 1990 and then held a postdoctoral fellowship in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University until 1993. He worked on human performance modeling and human-computer interaction with Bonnie John and Allen Newell. His research has remained focused on those two areas through 6 years as faculty at the University of Hong Kong and 3 and half years at NASA. Since being at NASA, HCI efforts have been more applied and targeted toward mission systems, especially for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission.


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