Dr. Gladys West, The Black Woman Who Invented The GPS, Gets Honored By U.S. Air Force At The Pentagon

Did you know that a black woman from Virginia was instrumental in creating a convenience we use every day and almost can’t live without? Yes indeed, Dr. Gladys West invented the GPS or the Global Positioning System and has finally received the recognition she deserves by being inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame by the United States Air Force during a ceremony held at the Pentagon this week.

The 87-year-old scholar knew as a child that she did not want to work in fields, picking tobacco, corn, and cotton or in a factory, beating tobacco leaves for cigarettes and pipes like her parents did. She said, “I realized I had to get an education to get out.” And that she did, studying math at #VirginiaState and graduating top of her class. She became a teacher for two years, then went back to school for her Masters. 

In 1956, West began to work at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, where she was the second black woman ever to be employed. There, she collected data from satellites, and that job is what eventually led to the development of the Global Positioning System. In 1986, West published “Data Processing System Specifications for the Geosat Satellite Radar Altimeter,” a 60-page illustrated guide, which was based off data created from the radio altimeter on the Geosat satellite, which went into orbit on March 12, 1984. She worked at Dahlgren for 42 years and retired in 1998.

West’s humble character is part of why many people were unaware of her role in the development of the device for decades. She said, “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.’”

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

Congratulations to a “hidden figure,” Dr. Gladys West! Thank you for your great contribution to science and your #BlackGirlMagic ✨

Adrian Cadiz

 

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36 comments

  1. This is not true. Three white men invented GPS: Easton, Getting and Parkinson. West simply helped with the math. This is PC propaganda.

    • Thomas S. Logsdon

      There was also a 4th major inventor. Hugo Fruehoff. He shared in the $1.3 million engineering award from Queen Elizabeth in London. Tom Logsdon Linkedin member from Seal Beach, CA

    • Wikipedia acknowledged Gladys West: Roger L. Easton of the Naval Research Laboratory, Ivan A. Getting of The Aerospace Corporation, and Bradford Parkinson of the Applied Physics Laboratory are credited with inventing it. The work of Gladys West is credited as instrumental in the development of computational techniques for detecting satellite positions with the precision needed for GPS.

      • Jonathan Wallace

        We do know racsim was strong back then trying to devalue black accomplishments. Many hidden figures but i don’t want to discredit anyone’s achievements whatever color. Dr West’s math was instrumental and extremely important in GPS development and that can’t be lessened in anyway. Great job to all the people who were instrumental.

    • Roger Easton and Bradford Parkinson invented GPS. Let’s not get that confused.
      Dr. West programmed a “stretch” IBM 7030 to deliver “increasingly refined calculations for a more accurate geodetic Earth model to pinpoint where things were within 3 feet. That was a lot of work, perseverance and the IBM 7030 was a bear to program.

    • And who invented the PC? Am sure you will say Microsoft right? You see your life?

    • The headline might be an attention grabber, but she is brilliant and well deserving of recognition.
      I’m not PC either.
      It seems she worked for the predecessor to ‘Trump’s Space Force’ that’s now fashionable to mock on twitter.

  2. Thomas S. Logsdon

    There is also a 4th major inventor of the GPS. He is Hugo Fruehauf Who was officially recognized by General Thompson of the US Air force and the queen of England in London where he shared in the $1.3 million engineering prize in 2019.

    • Another who should be included here. Test pilot and GPS creator, Calvin Dewey Shoemaker b 9-28-23 d 2018 in L.A. Born in Pleasant Grove AL. Met him in 2011 and later read of his accomplishments and awards in Huntsville. He is the real deal.

  3. Back in the day, 1967 or 68 I went to work for Philco Ford in Palo Alto. Previous to my job there, the company had built a constellation of satellites that I was told were the first of the Global Positioning System. Dr West most likely had a hand in perfecting the system but not in inventing it.

    • Without the math and her contribution to the overall performance of the system, the system might exist but it might be collecting dust in the backroom at Dalghren.

      To those trying to minimize her contribution to the systems success by claiming she’s not one of the original inventors, how does your life’s work compare to hers?

      Just because you can’t measure up doesn’t mean you need to take away something she earned.

  4. people can not let this woman have her victory. this isn’t about no one but her right now. I’m sure those other people have already been recognized. this woman probably had to work 3 times harder because 1- she was a woman and 2- SHE IS BLACK. so right this moment, EVERYONE ELSE IS IRRELEVANT. BLACK GIRL MAGIC.

  5. Guess most people can’t move beyond the headline to actually read what the article says. Don’t say “simply helped with the math” as if they could get anywhere without the “math” that makes it go, so being instrumental is more accurate. This is just like how professors take credit for the work that students do when it’s time to publish the paper since you want to give all the credit to other people. A lot of creations people “simply” put their names on, you know, like Jack Daniels.

    • EXACTLY if nothing else the movie Hidden Figures should have taught us that much the math is the foundation of any invention.

    • Deidra Cade, you are so right. People are amazed today by the geometry of the GPS system. Euclid could probably have solved all of the geometry problems of GPS two thousand years ago. It was the “math” and other technologies that were missing: the precision measurements, the propagation and precise timing of radio waves, the programming, the processing speed of computers, the advanced topographical maps and measurements that had to be available, the array of satellites that had to be placed in space with absolute accuracy. And math was the key to so many of the technologies that constituted the GPS “system.” Give credit to Dr. West for her herculean math efforts in designing programs that could make such incredibly precise measurements. She was indeed instrumental in the development of GPS.

    • Wow. You’re all wrong. GPS all started with Hedy Lamarr. Watch Hedy Lamarr “Bombshell” on Netflix. It will explain everything. The technology that brought us GPS and Bluetooth was invented by Hedy. She had it patented. The technology she invented was stolen by the government and used by them later on.
      This article is PROPAGANDA at its finest. Give credit where credit is DUE!!

  6. The honour given to her by US air force is also an evidence of her contribution in inventing GPS.

    • Dolye Vasconez Griffith

      Math is the core of engineering! Is not “just Math”.
      Congratulations to Dr. West and the other brains that as collaborators and using each other’s genius work invented the GPS!

      We tried to program a GPS as juniors in Electronics Engineering class and it was so complicated. We worked so many weeks trying to find the logic and without several teachers guidance and “math data from satellites” would had been impossible!

      Congratulations!

  7. Tonya St. Andrew Stringfellow

    If you take the time to read. The article clearly states “Did you know that a black woman from Virginia was instrumental in creating a convenience we use every day and almost can’t live without”… For hundreds of years other people have been taking credit for things they did not invent, build, create or found. Our country is built on the backs of slaves. We have so many other black women & men who have created technology that we use today. Shirley Ann Jackson is another alone with so many more I can type here. Shirley Ann Jackson led research to develop caller ID and call waiting functions while working at AT&T Bell Laboratories in the 1970s. Research your REAL history and learn the truth!

    • You are right.

    • The title is misleading is the entire point. She didn’t create it. She did help with the math which was a important part of the process. She deserves recognition and credit for it.

      Just like Jack Daniels mentioned above. He was taught how to distill whisky by another person but Daniels himself created his particular recipe and methods used today. Saying he doesn’t get credit is like saying Einstein doesn’t get credit for his accomplishments but his first math teacher does.

  8. This is a welcome development

  9. Not being a scientist but a thought producer will put this thought out here for some scientist as was reading this and considering the vulnerability of satellites their usefulness may be coming to an end am thinking of the advances in cell phones and lenses and high resolution and such that a device to picture the stars and compute a very accurate position not needed any thing other than phone and stars or maybe Sun both were used by surveyors before GPS came into being might just be an app with correct logarithms blessings in Christ celebrate this lady and her contributions

  10. Congratulations Dr Gladys West!

  11. Gladys west is none for satellite geodesy.
    Gladys Mae West is an American mathematician known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth, and her work on the development of the satellite geodesy models that were eventually incorporated into the Global Positioning System.

  12. Congratulations Dr Gladys West! Not only fight with numbers and technology, you defeat racial predjudices and gender stereotypes. You are great.

  13. Based on the article, Dr. Gladys West deserves all of the accolades the Air Force gave her for her work on GPS. And as a member of the “hidden figures” generation, it is important and newsworthy that her contributions be recognized. OTOH, the headline writer earned several dope slaps for incorrectly calling her the inventor and creating a lot of unnecessary chaos and finger pointing.

  14. First clue that the facts aren’t straight in this story was BALLER ALERT….

  15. Congratulations Dr Gladys, may your accomplishments inspire generations!

  16. Fake news

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