In Placing Outer Space Lisa Messeri traces how the place-making practices of planetary scientists transform the void of space into a cosmos filled with worlds that can be known and explored. Making planets into places is central to the daily practices and professional identities of the astronomers, geologists, and computer scientists Messeri studies. She takes readers to the Mars Desert Research Station and a NASA research center to discuss ways scientists experience and map Mars. At a Chilean observatory and in MIT's labs she describes how they discover exoplanets and envision what it would be like to inhabit them. Today’s planetary science reveals the universe as densely inhabited by evocative worlds, which in turn tells us more about Earth, ourselves, and our place in the universe.
Introduction. From Outer Space to Outer Place 1
1. Narrating Mars in Utah's Desert 25
2. Mapping Mars in Silicon Valley 71
3. Visualizing Alien Worlds 111
4. Inhabiting Other Earths 149
Conclusion. Navigating the Infinite Cosmos 189
"Part cosmic travelogue, part scholarly analysis, in Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds, Lisa Messeri refreshingly interprets the planetary scientist's methods and tools and orbs-of-interest through the lens of a curious anthropologist. From there we gain insight into who we really are as explorers, and what motivates our endless search for worlds beyond."
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History
"There is something almost quixotic in scientists' work to make remote-sensed data into not only signals but places. It is lovely; and at the same time problematic. Lisa Messeri poignantly renders all of this palpable at once. Rich with ethnographic detail, Placing Outer Space makes a decided contribution to discussions in anthropology and science studies on outer space and alien worlds and to classic discussions of the significance of 'fieldwork,' 'immersion,' and the dialectic between the strange and familiar in knowledge production."
Timothy Choy, author of
Ecologies of Comparison: An Ethnography of Endangerment in Hong Kong
"Placing Outer Space traces the scientific contours of interstellar dreams, where hints of distant planets open up the magical possibilities of other worlds. Lisa Messeri is an outstanding guide to this outer terrain of human ingenuity, and her terrestrial adventures through research sites demonstrate how the universe becomes all the more interesting as it grows familiar. In searching for exoplanets, humans rediscover their own world, learning to see both earth and sky in newly intimate ways."
Peter Redfield, author of
Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana
"To become an exoplanet scientist, Messeri shows (in part by undergoing some training herself), is to learn to see and convey these abstractions as something more relatable — as 'super-Earths' or 'mini-Neptunes' or such. 'To excite the community about a particular visualization,' as Messeri nicely puts it, 'is to convince them that the image contains a world.' And to really excite the community, presumably, is to convince them that a world contains little green men."
New York Times Book Review
"Placing Outer Space is a welcome addition to the literature on planetary science. Not only has Messeri achieved what has eluded so many writers—putting humans at the center of the account—she has also succeeded in crafting a compelling narrative of discovery."
"Messeri’s book is an excellent addition to both the increasing scholarship concerning the cosmos in science and technology studies and the resurgent field of outer space anthropology. Her thorough analysis of place-making practices by an often insulated community is accompanied by her vivid and absorbing ethnographic writing. Placing Outer Space is an excellent example of academic writing that is supremely beneficial and accessible to both the academy and the public"
Taylor R. Genovese
LSE Review of Books
"Messeri is to be commended for crafting an engaging account that is fully accessible to an outside audience. Her beautiful ethnographic narrative and clear applications of theory make her readers feel comfortable. . . . For anthropologists attempting to pen a scholarly monograph that engages both the broader public and the community they study, this is a worthy example."
"Lisa Messeri's spirit of adventurous ethnographic contact carries the day, delivering new insights into off-Earth explorations by experts and amateurs alike. In bringing us, up close, to those engaged in fashioning new home worlds and remapping the cosmos, Messeri urges us to follow the future making. That enterprise is in good hands."
"A thoughtful investigation of planetary science. . . . Students of the history of science and astronomy will find many new ideas here that are worth pondering."
Journal of Anthropological Research
"A first-rate example of ethnographic research into the epistemological frameworks that shape the work of astronomers engaged in planetary science. Messeri has produced a superb discussion of how scientists move the unfamiliar into the realm of the familiar."
John W. Traphagan
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute