Gladys West: Next Time You See Any Navigation Software Like Google Maps Thank This Trailblazing Black Woman!

by Gee NY

When you next rely on navigation software like Google Maps to guide you to your destination, take a moment to thank Gladys West, a trailblazing Black mathematician.

Her groundbreaking work paved the way for the development of the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Born in 1930, West’s journey began when she became the second Black woman hired at the Naval Proving Ground in Virginia.

Armed with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Virginia State College, a historically Black institution, West’s mathematical prowess caught the attention of the Navy.

She was tasked with analyzing satellite data of the Earth’s surface, a role that would eventually lead her to play a pivotal role in the creation of GPS technology.

Much like the character Dorothy Vaughan portrayed by Octavia Spencer in the film “Hidden Figures,” West worked as a computer programmer, specializing in large-scale computer systems and data-processing systems.

She programmed an IBM 7030 “Stretch” computer to refine calculations for an accurate geodetic Earth model, essential for the development of GPS.

West’s contributions didn’t stop there!

As the project manager for Seasat, the first satellite to conduct remote sensing of the Earth’s oceans, she continued to push the boundaries of satellite technology and precision measurement.

Despite retiring from the Naval Surface Warfare Center in 1998, West’s legacy lives on. In 2018, she was admitted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame, where commanding officer Captain Godfrey Weekes hailed her as a true pioneer whose work had a lasting impact on the world.

In recognition of her significant accomplishments, West is being honored this Black History Month to shed light on her remarkable journey from a mathematician at Dahlgren in 1956 to a trailblazer whose work revolutionized navigation technology and continues to guide millions of people worldwide.

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