Black History: Meet Dr. Gladys West, The Black Woman Behind GPS Technology

Dr. Gladys West is a mathematician known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth.

It wasn’t until 2018 that she would finally be recognized for her very important work that led to the development of the GPS.

Dr. Gladys West was only one of four Black employees, and the second Black woman ever hired at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia. 

West worked as a programmer and analyzed satellite data. With the data, she put together altimeter models of the Earth’s shape with extreme precision. 

She was then recommended to work as the project manager for the Seasat radar altimetry project, the first satellite that could remotely sense oceans.

Through the mid-70s and 80s, Dr. West programmed an IBM computer to provide precise calculations to model Earth, a geoid, optimized for what eventually became the Global Positioning System orbit.

Dr. West’s contributions to the GPS were only rediscovered when her sorority sister read her biography  at an alumni function.

In February 2018, the Virginia General Assembly recognized Dr. West for her contributions and in December 2018, she was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame.

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