Gladys West: Black Lady Who Developed GPS Expertise

Most of us use world positioning system (GPS) expertise in a method or one other regularly — so as to add a location to social media posts, or use the navigation system in our automobile to direct us the place we should be. We do it with out even desirous about how the expertise behind GPS was developed or by whom.

Albert Einstein is, after all, a family title — and GPS wouldn’t exist with out him and his essential theories of particular and common relativity. However Gladys West is simply as vital – solely her title isn’t acquainted to most individuals.

West, who was born in 1930, labored as a mathematician, gathering and analyzing satellite tv for pc knowledge of the Earth’s floor, till she ultimately created an in depth mannequin and helped developed the expertise that resulted in GPS, the worldwide navigational satellite tv for pc system that may precisely decide your place wherever on Earth.


After graduating from Virginia State School, a traditionally Black school, with a bachelor’s and grasp’s diploma, West grew to become the second Black girl ever employed — in 1956 — on the Naval Proving Floor in Virginia, the place she labored as a mathematician. On the time, the Navy was bringing in computer systems, and West programmed the huge machines — very like Dorothy Vaughan, who was performed by Octavia Spencer within the film “Hidden Figures,” did for NASA.

In West’s work as a pc programmer, she specialised in large-scale laptop techniques and data-processing techniques for the evaluation of data obtained from satellites. She additionally served because the venture supervisor for Seasat, which was the primary satellite tv for pc to hold out distant sensing of Earth’s oceans.

“From the mid-1970s via the 1980s, utilizing complicated algorithms to account for variations in gravitational, tidal, and different forces that distort Earth’s form, she programmed an IBM 7030 ‘Stretch’ laptop to ship more and more refined calculations for an especially correct geodetic Earth mannequin, a geoid, optimized for what finally grew to become the World Positioning System (GPS) orbit,” in response to an Air Drive press launch from her induction into the House and Missiles Pioneers Corridor of Fame.

You may need seen mentions of West popping up in your social media feeds receently – it’s as a result of she’s being celebrated for her invaluable contributions throughout Black Historical past Month. The Challenger Studying Heart of Tallahassee shared a picture of West, writing, “As we speak we salute Dr. Gladys West.”

February is Black Historical past Month & to rejoice we’ll be sharing the Black Historical past Makers in STEM! As we speak we salute Dr. Gladys West a mathematician who helped mannequin the form of the Earth, & developed the expertise that introduced us GPS! Be taught extra about her

— Challenger Studying Heart of Tallahassee (@challengertlh) February 17, 2021

After retiring from the Naval Floor Warfare Heart (previously the Naval Proving Floor) in 1998, West went again to highschool and, although she was delayed by a stroke, accomplished her Ph.D. at age 70.

When she was inducted into the Air Drive House and Missile Pioneers Corridor of Fame in 2018, commanding officer Captain Godfrey Weekes paid tribute to her, saying, “She rose via the ranks, labored on the satellite tv for pc geodesy, and contributed to the accuracy of GPS and the measurement of satellite tv for pc knowledge. As Gladys West began her profession as a mathematician at Dahlgren in 1956, she possible had no concept that her work would impression the world for many years to come back.”

What an inspiration!

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