Black History Trailblazer: Dr. Gladys West Inventor of GPS Technology

Dr. Gladys West is inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame during a ceremony in her honor at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Dec. 6, 2018. West was among the so-called "Hidden Figures" part of the team who did computing for the U.S. military in the era before electronic systems. The Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame is one of Air Force's Space Commands Highest Honors.(Photo by Adrian Cadiz)

Dr. Gladys West, a Black woman from Virginia and former mathematician instrumental in the creation of the GPS. In 1956, she worked at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, where she was the second black woman ever to be employed. West began to collect data from satellites, leading to the development of Global Positioning System

In 1986, West published “Data Processing System Specifications for the Geosat Satellite Radar Altimeter”. Her contributions to GPS were only uncovered when a member of West’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, read a short biography West had submitted for an alumni function.

In a 2017 message about Black History Month, Capt. Godfrey Weekes, then-commanding officer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, described the “integral role” played by West.

In December 2018, Dr. West was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame in December 2018.

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