Dr. Gladys West, one of the “hidden figure” who contributed significantly to the team charged with the computing that laid the foundation for what we now refer to as a GPS navigation system.
Dr. West has now been formally honored by being inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame, one of Air Force’s Space Commands highest honors.
Dr. West served as only the second African American woman at Dahlgren Naval Base in Dahlgren, Virginia and only one of four African Americans to work on the base during the 1960s and 70s. The Virginia State University alumna was hired as a mathematician at the United States Naval Weapons Laboratory and ultimately worked with a team of noteworthy engineers to develop what would become the Global Positioning System (GPS). She engaged in extensive astronomical research and study to determine the most accurate reflections of planet sizes, gravitational pull, and other forces that may distort the Earth’s shape.
She was tasked with entering data into ‘supercomputers’ that were solving complex equations and then also working with software that performed countless calculations to ensure the accuracy of the Earth’s model that then became optimized for the creation of the GPS.
The Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame recognizes the leaders whose innovation and vision significantly impacted the early years of the Air Force space program. The award honors and celebrates those who created and leveraged new technology and operational systems that would forever change space exploration and national security concerns.