Scientists working in the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission (2004–2018) reported having a sense of presence on Mars. How is this possible, given that many of the factors underlying presence in mundane situations were absent? We use Riva and Waterworth's (2014) Three-Level model to elucidate how presence was achieved. It distinguishes among proto-presence, core-presence, and extended-presence. We argue that scientists did not experience proto-presence because it requires a tight sensorimotor coupling not available due to the way the rovers were controlled and due to the lengthy delays in getting feedback. Instead, the design of the sociotechnical system made core-presence and extended-presence possible. Extended-presence involved successfully establishing long-term conceptual goals during strategic planning meetings. Core-presence involved enacting short-term tactical goals by carrying out specific actions on particular targets, abstracting away from sensorimotor details. The shift of perspective to the Martian surface was facilitated by team members “becoming the rover,” which allowed them to identify relevant affordances evident in images. We argue, however, that because Mars exploration is a collective activity involving shared agency by a distributed cognitive system, the experience of core- and extended-presence was a collective sense of presence through the rovers.

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