Without the ingenuity of renowned mathematician, Melba Roy Mouton, the first moon landing by Apollo 11 in 1969 would have been delayed or probably impossible. Like many black women who worked with NASA, she had to work twice as hard to get noticed. Irrespective of this, she left an indelible mark in NASA’s history. It is for this reason, NASA named a 20,000-foot mountain on the moon after her. If Mount Mouton, as it is called, is superimposed over the earth, it would be as tall as the highest peak in North America.
Her name may not be a household name, but Melba pioneered the figures that generated the orbital element timetables which enable millions to see the satellites as they fly over the earth. This definitely makes it worthwhile to know more about her. Born in 1921 in Fairfax, Virginia, to Rhodie and Edna Chloe, She attended the Manassas Regional High School before attending college, as reported by Massive science.
All through her early education, Melba had a particular affinity for maths, which isn’t surprising to those who knew her academic trajectory. She studied for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics and was shortly employed by both the army map service and the census bureau, where she was tasked with plotting future neighborhoods and suburbs that were growing at a fast pace. This skill became beneficial to her role when she was employed at NASA to track new objects sent to space.
Her role at NASA was to follow the movement of Echo 1, the first satellite used to orbit the earth and facilitate communication across the world. It was considered one of the most challenging tasks at NASA because Melba had to have the presence of mind to master the multiple tracking formats to record and recover data so as to plot the movement of the object. She showed mastery in predicting satellites, to the admiration of her superiors.
She was given additional roles to work on programming languages such as APL, one of the first languages used in code; a new technology necessary when working with complex mechanics, space launches, and plotting orbits. Having distinguished herself in this role, she was later promoted to Assistant Chief of Research Programs at NASA’s Trajectory and Geodynamics Division. This role placed her in charge of human “computers”, persons who were employed at NASA to calculate and explain complex mathematical solutions.
This helped in making predictions and communications in NASA’s operations effective, and without Melba’s role in tracking movements of objects and data, it would be difficult for the world to use tablets and mobile phones. Though she was not celebrated well enough for these trailblazing feats, technologies have been built on her discoveries.