Patricia Palombo began her career in computing in 1959, when she was recruited as a programmer by IBM Corporation. IBM assigned her to a team working on Project Mercury, NASA’s first program for manned sub-orbital and orbital flight. Based at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, she worked on systems to support the re-entry phase of orbital flights. Palombo’s contributions included writing programs that defined the present position of a craft, the time to impact, and the refined impact point. Because of the intensive real-time computational requirements, this was considered “one of the most demanding data processing problems ever undertaken at that time” (National Air and Space Museum). The systems designed by her team would ultimately support a total of eight space launches, including the 1961 flight of Alan Sheppard, the first American in space.
Palombo left the space program after it moved from Maryland to Houston, and she went back to school to earn a Master’s degree in Music. Later, she rejoined IBM to do software development in artificial intelligence. After her retirement from IBM, she worked with non-profit music organizations, promoting the use of information technology for more efficient and effective planning and operations.
Patricia completed her undergraduate career at Barnard College, where she was one of two math majors in her class.