Wednesday Geek Woman: Melba Roy Mouton

Melba Roy Mouton, standing with computing equipment at Goddard Space Flight Center.

Melba Roy Mouton, NASA mathematician, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Image courtesy NASA, 1960.

Melba Roy Mouton graduated from Howard University in 1950 with a Master’s in Mathematics. By 1960, she was working for NASA, where she headed up a team of mathematicians who tracked Echo satellites in Earth’s orbit.

During her time at NASA, she served as head of the Data Systems Division’s Advanced Orbital Programming Branch, Head of the Mission and Trajectory Analysis Division’s Program Systems Branch, and Assistant Chief of Research Programmes, Trajectory and Geodynamics Division. She received an Exceptional Performance Award and NASA’s Apollo Achievement Award.

She retired in 1973, and passed away in 1990, at the age of 61.

Over on Vintage Black Glamour, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, an astrophysicist who did a post-doc at NASA, describes Mouton’s work:

[W]hen we launch satellites into orbit, there are a lot of things to keep track of. We have to ensure that gravitational pull from other bodies, such as other satellites, the moon, etc. don’t perturb and destabilize the orbit. These are extremely hard calculations to do even today, even with a machine-computer. So, what she did was extremely intense, difficult work. The goal of the work, in addition to ensuring satellites remained in a stable orbit, was to know where everything was at all times. So they had to be able to calculate with a high level of accuracy.