The Greatest Missions Never Flown: Anticipatory Discourse and the “Projectory” in Technological Communities


This article introduces the concept of the sociotechnical projectory to explore the importance of future-oriented discourse in technical practice. It examines the case of two flagship NASA missions that, since the 1960s, have been continually proposed and deferred. Despite the missions never being flown, it argues that they produced powerful effects within the planetary science community as assumed “end-points” to which all current technological, scientific, and community efforts are directed. It asserts that attention to the social construction of technological systems requires historical attention to how actors situate themselves with respect to a shared narrative of the future.