“All these worlds are yours except …”: Science Fiction and Folk Fictions at NASA

  • Janet Vertesi Sociology Department Princeton University Princeton, NJ, USA
Keywords: science fiction, politics of science, lay sociology


Although they command real spacecraft exploring the solar system, NASA scientists refer frequently to science fiction in the course of their daily work. Fluency with the Star Trek series and other touchstone works demonstrates membership in broader geek culture. But references to Star Trek, movies like 2001 and 2010, and Dr. Strangelove also do the work of demarcating project team affiliation and position, theorizing social and political dynamics, and motivating individuals in a chosen course of action. As such, science fiction classics serve as local folk fictions that enable embedded commentary on the socio-political circumstances of technoscientific work: in essence, a form of lay social theorizing. Such fiction references therefore allow scientists and engineers to openly yet elliptically discuss their social, political, and interactional environment, all the while maintaining face as credible, impartial, technical experts.

Author Biography

Janet Vertesi, Sociology Department Princeton University Princeton, NJ, USA

Janet Vertesi is a sociologist of science and technology at Princeton University who has studied planetary scientists on NASA’s robotic spacecraft teams since 2005. She holds a Ph.D. in Science & Technology Studies from Cornell University and an MPhil in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University. Her first book, Seeing Like a Rover (Chicago, 2015) examines image processing practices on the Mars Exploration Rover mission. She is also co-editor, with David Ribes, of the DigitalSTS Fieldguide (Princeton, 2019).


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12 Jun 2019
Research Articles