Obduracy and the steering of private spaceflight systems

Bouchey, Michael
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Woodhouse, Edward J.
Breyman, Steve
Campbell, Nancy D. (Nancy Dianne), 1963-
Kaminski, Amy
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Science and technology studies
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This dissertation examines the ability to re-choose and reshape technological development through the case of the privatization of spaceflight in the United States. In general this dissertation asks: How can contemporary technological development be structured to leave future technological choices as open as possible to future consideration? And what are the barriers to reshaping technology? The set of barriers I am studying I refer to as “obduracy.” Accumulation, lock-in, path dependence, and technological momentum jointly render technological systems difficult to modify, entrenching certain outcomes that are good for some groups at the expense of most others and broadly barring against improvements based on learning by doing. This situation exemplifies obduracy. In order to show how obduracy becomes a barrier to re-choosing I show how privatization was partially the result of an accumulation of decisions at NASA rather than a strategy arrived at through deliberation and analysis, how economistic values and private executives have become locked-in to decision-making, how the available potential choices for space development are curtailed by the influence of private executives, and how this influence is expanded through technical, organizational, infrastructural, expert, and legal momentum. The dissertation ends the analysis of each facet by proposing an “intelligent trial and error” approach to the structure of decision-making systems. As a result, this dissertation contributes to reconstructivist science and technology studies, making it a potentially useful tool for partisans wishing to make space development more responsive to a greater diversity of people.
May 2019
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
Dept. of Science and Technology Studies
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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