Mathematician Dr. Gladys West Inducted Into Air Force Hall Of Fame

Dr. Gladys May West, the 87-year-old mathematician is no ordinary woman.

West is known for her ground-breaking work in laying the foundation for the Global Positioning System as well as involvement in other projects that include variations in gravitational, tidal, and other forces that distort Earth’s shape in the 1970s and 1980s.

She was recently inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame — one of the Air Force’s Space Commands highest honors.

West grew up in a farming family, in a community of sharecroppers, Dinwiddie County Virginia.

After gaining a scholarship for achieving the first place in her high-school class, she continued her studies at Virginia State College, where she majored in mathematics.

She taught for two years after graduating from college and later began work at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, where she was the second black woman ever to be employed.

She worked at Dahlgren for 42 years, until her retirement in 1998.

“Dr. Gladys West is among a small group of women who did computing for the U.S. military in the era before electronic systems. Hired in 1956 as a mathematician at the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory, she participated in a path-breaking, award-winning astronomical study that proved, during the early 1960s, the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune,” said the Air Force Space Command in a recent press release.

And it added, “Thereafter, from the mid-1970s through the 1980s, using complex algorithms to account for variations in gravitational, tidal, and other forces that distort Earth’s shape, she programmed an IBM 7030 ‘Stretch’ computer to deliver increasingly refined calculations for an extremely accurate geodetic Earth model, a geoid, optimized for what ultimately became the Global Positioning System (GPS) orbit.”

So, once known as one of the so-called “Hidden Figures,” West is now receiving wide and public acclaim for her life-long work.

Readers Bureau

Edited by Jesus Chan

Do you want to add feedback to this story? Please add a comment in the e-mail box below.

Like our Facebook page

Follow us on Twitter