iau2301 — Press Release

Melba Mouton
16 February 2023
New Name for Towering Lunar Mountain Approved
Unique feature of the Moon to be named in honour of trailblazing mathematician Melba Roy Mouton

The Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has approved an official name for a mesa-like lunar mountain that towers above the landscape carved by craters near the Moon’s south pole. This unique feature will now be referred to as Mons Mouton, after NASA mathematician and computer programmer Melba Roy Mouton (MOO-tawn).

The name Mons Mouton was proposed to the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN) of the IAU by members of NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) team. The flat-topped mountain is adjacent to the western rim of the Nobile crater, on which VIPER will land and explore during its approximately 100-day mission as part of NASA’s Artemis program. The mountain is also one of 13 candidate landing regions for NASA’s Artemis III mission, which is intended to send astronauts to the lunar surface, including the first woman to set foot on the Moon.

The IAU theme for naming mountains (denoted ‘mons’) on the Moon focuses on “scientists who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their fields.” The lunar landmark naming honours and recognises Mouton’s life, her accomplishments as a computer scientist, and her contributions to NASA’s missions.

Mouton was first employed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in 1959, just a year after the space agency was established. She became the head mathematician who led a group of ‘human computers’, who tracked the Echo 1 and 2 satellites, launched into Earth’s orbit in 1960 and 1964, respectively.

A few years later, in 1961, Mouton was the head programmer responsible for the Mission and Trajectory Analysis Division’s Program Systems Branch — the team who coded computer programs used to calculate spacecraft locations and trajectories, giving NASA the ability to track spacecraft while in orbit.

Before retiring in 1973, after a career at NASA that spanned 14 years, Mouton had become the assistant chief of research programmes for the Trajectory and Geodynamics Division at Goddard. In appreciation of her dedicated service and outstanding accomplishments, which culminated in the successful Apollo 11 Moon landing on 20 July 1969, she was recognised with an Apollo Achievement Award.

"Melba Mouton was one of our pioneering leaders at NASA,” said Sandra Connelly, the acting associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “She not only helped NASA take the lead in exploring the unknown in air and space, but she also charted a path for other women and people of color to pursue careers and lead cutting-edge science at NASA.”

Mons Mouton is a wide, relatively flat-topped mountain, about the size of the state of Delaware, and was created over billions of years by lunar impacts, which sculpted it out of its surroundings. As a result, Mons Mouton stands as tall as Denali — the tallest mountain in North America —– approximately 6000 metres higher than its neighbouring features on the Moon’s south pole. Because it is relatively untouched by bombardments, scientists believe Mons Mouton is much more ancient — possibly billions of years older than its surroundings. A ring of huge craters — evidence of its pulverising distant past — lies around its base; some have cliff-like edges, descending into areas of permanent darkness. Its rolling hilltop is peppered with smaller rocks and pebbles as well as lots of enticing craters that are frequently blanketed in freezing shifting shadows.

Mons Mouton represents a great spot for VIPER — our solar-powered Moon rover that we’ll drive and conduct science in near real time,” said Sarah Noble, VIPER program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It features high sunny spots, it’s relatively flat, satellite data shows signs of water ice, and it allows long stretches of direct communication with our ground station on Earth.” 

VIPER will be the first resource mapping mission beyond Earth. It will search at and below the lunar surface to determine the location and concentration of any ice that could eventually be harvested to sustain human exploration on the Moon, Mars, and beyond and it will help advance scientific exploration of the Moon by helping to understand how water is created and deposited throughout the Solar System. It is planned to deliver VIPER to the Moon in late 2024 under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. 

More information

The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 12 000 active professional astronomers from more than 100 countries worldwide. Its mission is to promote and safeguard astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.



Rita Schulz
Chair IAU Working Group Planetary System Nomenclature/ESA
Tel: +31 71 565 48 21
Email: rschulz@rssd.esa.int

Lars Lindberg Christensen
IAU Director of Communications
Tel: +1 520 461 0433/+49 173 38 72 621
Cell: +49 173 38 72 621
Email: lars.christensen@noirlab.edu

Rachel Hoover
NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley
Tel: +1-650-604-4789
Email: rachel.hoover@nasa.gov


Melba Mouton