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Meet Gladys West, The Black Lady Who Helped Develop GPS Technology



gladys west gps technology

gladys west gps technology

Gladys West is a 87-year-old black woman who worked at a US Navy base in Virginia back in the 1950s and 1960s. She played a vital in the GPS technology which is now incorporated into cars, phones and even social media.

Gladys is a mathematicians and she worked with a team of engineers that developed the Geographical Positioning System (GPS) before she retired in 1998. She worked with the Navy for 42 whooping years.

Gwen James, West’s sorority sister, recently discovered the contributions that Gladys West made in GPS technology and wanted to share the news with The Associated Press.

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Gladys graduated from Virginia State University where she was on full academic scholarship. After her graduation, she started work as a math teacher for two years in Sussex County. Afterwards, she obtained her master’s degree.

In 1956, she became the second black woman to join the Dahlgren, Virginia, naval base. She was one of thee only four black employees.

gladys west gps technology

During her work period, she collected location data from orbiting machines and input the data into giant supercomputers, while using early computer software to analyze surface elevations. She worked long days and nights recording satellite locations and on complex calculations. Although the work was tedious, West told The AP that she “was ecstatic” about the opportunity “to work with some of the greatest scientists.”

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West’s diligence and efficiency earned her recognition by her supervisor who recommended her for a commendation in 1979. Her work was also applauded by Capt. Godfrey Weekes, a former officer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, in a message he wrote about Black History Month last year. “She rose through the ranks, worked on the satellite geodesy (science that measures the size and shape of Earth) and contributed to the accuracy of GPS and the measurement of satellite data. As Gladys West started her career as a mathematician at Dahlgren in 1956, she likely had no idea that her work would impact the world for decades to come.”

gladys west gps technology

West, a Richmond native and the daughter of field laborers, still finds it hard to fathom how her technology has evolved into a widely known and useful system. “When you’re working every day, you’re not thinking, ‘what impact is this going to have on the world?’ You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this right.’”


Culled from Black Enterprise

Emeka is a Contributor at Autojosh. A graduate of Electrical/Electronic Engineering with a B.Eng degree. Emeka is a car enthusiast who is interested in traveling, writing, movies and driving. He also loves drinking garri with cold water.