David Mello sits on his porch on North Summer street in Edgartown, watching passersby on the sidewalk in front of the house. It’s a few days after his 89th birthday and he’s enjoying the view.

“This is my favorite spot” he says. “Sitting here quietly rocking and watching.”

The house is located a few blocks from the Vineyard Gazette, where Mr. Mello began working in high school, back in 1948, as a stringer calling in high school basketball scores. As the Gazette continues to celebrate its 175th birthday this summer, Mr. Mello ranks as one of the oldest living employees of the paper.

“I was a student manager of the Edgartown High School basketball team,” he recalls. “And because the games were late in the afternoon or evening as soon as the game ended my chore was to call this telephone number and give them in excruciating detail everything that happened in that game. That was my job.”

Mr. Mello lives most of the year in Hartford, Conn., working part time at a golf course there, now that he is retired from his job as a rocket scientist with the Department of Defense, starting with President Eisenhower and serving under seven presidents in total. But each summer he makes sure he spends time in the house he grew up in, the one his father bought from a Sears & Roebuck catalogue after moving from the Azores as a young man and eventually landing on the Vineyard in the 1920s.

“They are volcanic islands,” Mr. Mello says of his ancestral home. “And there was no more land to buy up, so since he was not the eldest he had to leave. So what they would do is they would all get together and come up with enough money to send him to the United States and say, send us back money when you can help.”

David Mello worked under seven Presidents while at the Department of Defense. — Ray Ewing

His father found a job at a rubber company in New Bedford, which he said was inhuman. “And then he met some other people and they said, well, there’s an island nearby. And he being an islander he came down here and it worked for him.”

On the Vineyard, Mr. Mello’s father became a fisherman, a tourist guide and a groundskeeper for summer people. In addition to the house on North Summer street, he built a small camp on Curtis Lane. Each summer the family would move to Curtis Lane and rent out the larger house on North Summer street.

“And then when all the summer people left, we would move back to town,” he says.

Mr. Mello said his father wanted the house to provide a lifetime of financial security, which it continues to do.

In addition to his time as a Gazette stringer in high school, Mr. Mello returned to the paper each summer, while attending the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, to work in the press room.

“That was way back when it was a flatbed Ludlow Press. Everett Gale was the pressmaster. And that was a lot of fun but it was more lead than you would ever care to be near,” he recalls.

Mr. Mello worked on the linotype, part of the painstaking business of creating letters out of lead for each week’s edition.

“My job was to take last week’s weighted lines, melt them down, get rid of the dross, pour it into the ingots. Now we have hot lead that I would carry personally over to the linotype, put it onto a hook, crank it up, and it goes into a lead pot, which is always molten on the linotype itself.”

Although in later years it would be discovered that working closely with lead could be detrimental to one’s mental health, for Mr. Mello, who also scraped lead paint off his father’s fishing boat every summer, the effects were not noticeable. His long career as a rocket scientist attests to that.

“You hear the phrase, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do something. Well, the truth of the matter is that no one person has all the knowledge necessary to do everything involving a rocket,” he says of his career. “The chemists, for instance, are concerned about propellant. And the metallurgist are concerned about the motor. But then there’s the aerodynamics, these things spin. If there’s people on board, now you have to know all about another field. If it’s going out of out of orbit, into orbit, now you have to know about astronomy and astrophysics. So everybody has a piece of the action. Very few people have anything to do with the whole machine.”

And Mr. Mello’s piece of the action?

“The people providing the rockets are firing the rockets for my benefit,” he says. “I’ve got a job to do. A spying job.”

“My job was a payload specialist, designing technical machinery and spy equipment which was put into a rocket,” he explains. “So I had a section of a rocket, which is about two feet in diameter and three feet high, and everything in there was mine and it had to be designed to fit into this rocket, not to fly apart.”

This was the era of Sputnik and the race to control space or at least have the highest view of what the other countries were up to. And yet most of the time Mr. Mello thought he was doing one thing, only to find out later the real focus was something completely different. He was on a need-to-know basis, he says. He couldn’t even use the word rocket at first.

“My work then was in a project called high lift vehicles. A high lift vehicle program is actually developing rockets.”

In addition to designing cameras tucked away in rockets to serve as eyes in the sky, he worked on a project to gauge the impact of Russian atomic bombs, helped designed submarine torpedoes which he said acted a lot like rockets and developed new radar circuitry to track enemy aircraft trying to fly low enough to be undetected. His stories carry with them an aura of espionage, of Casella impactors and EX10 and Mark 48 smart torpedoes.

But then, as his wife Lainey brings more lemonade out to the porch, and the soft hum of footsteps continue on the sidewalk in front of the hedges, the memories turn back to the Gazette and some of the people he knew there. He says he mostly stayed in the back shop and didn’t interact much with the newsroom but occasionally witnessed legendary publisher and editor Henry Beetle Hough hard at work writing the week’s stories.

“Henry was a hunt and peck typist,” he recalls. “Just two fingers. His fingers were like a blur. And Bill Roberts looked like he was listening to an opera, his hands barely moved on the keyboard. But he’s doing the same thing and the output was equal.”