Gladys West: The History of GPS

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While preparing a bio for a sorority reunion function, 87 year old Gladys West made an off-the-cuff comment about her career at the naval base in Dalhgren, Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s.  Her fellow sorority sister was so impressed that she reached out to the press to share Gladys's story.  Even though she had known her for 15 years, she had no idea that Gladys had helped to create modern day GPS technology.

Her contributions during her 42 year career earned her a commendation in 1979 and the following comment from a former officer at the the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division.

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.
— Captain Godfrey Weekes

As a Richmond, Virginia native and daughter of field laborers, Gladys is amazed at 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.’”

 

 Gladys West, at Dahlgren with Sam Smith in 1985, looks over data from the Global Positioning System she helped develop. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Gladys West, at Dahlgren with Sam Smith in 1985, looks over data from the Global Positioning System she helped develop. (Photo: U.S. Navy)