Gladys West

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Gladys West
Born Gladys Mae Brown
1931 (age 86–87)
Dinwiddie County, Virginia, United States
Alma mater Virginia State College
Known for GPS

Gladys Mae West (née Brown) (born 1930[1] or 1931) is an American mathematician known for her contributions to the mathematics underpinning Global Positioning Systems.

Early life and education[edit]

West was born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia,[2] to a farming family in a community of sharecroppers.[1] After gaining a scholarship for achieving the first place in her high-school class,[1] she studied mathematics at Virginia State College.[2] After graduating she taught for around two years.[1]


In 1956 West began to work at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, where she was the second black woman ever to be employed.[1][3] West began to collect data from satellites, eventually leading to the development of Global Positioning System.[4] Her supervisor Ralph Neiman recommended her as project manager for the Seasat radar altimetry project, the first satellite that could remotely sense oceans.[5][6] In 1979, Neiman recommended West for commendation.[7] West was a programmer in the Dahlgren Division for large-scale computers and a project manager for data-processing systems used in the analysis of satellite data.[8]

Data processing report for GeoSat by Gladys West

In 1986, West published "Data Processing System Specifications for the Geosat Satellite Radar Altimeter", a 60-page illustrated guide. The Naval Surface Weapons Center (NSWC) guide was published to explain how to increase the accuracy of the estimation of "geoid heights and vertical deflection", topics of satellite geodesy.[9] This was achieved by processing the data created from the radio altimeter on the Geosat satellite which went into orbit on 12 March 1984.[10] She worked at Dahlgren for 42 years,[11] retiring in 1998.[1] 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.[9]

Personal life[edit]

She met her husband Ira West at the naval base and they married in 1957.[1][3] As of February 2018, West lives in King George County, Virginia,[11] and is completing a PhD via a distance-learning program with Virginia Tech.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Amelia Butterly (20 May 2018). "Gladys West - the 'hidden figure' of GPS". BBC News Online. 100 Women. 
  2. ^ a b LANCE–STAR, CATHY DYSON THE FREE. "Gladys West's work on GPS 'would impact the world'". Retrieved 2018-02-09. 
  3. ^ a b "Sppt 061915". South Potomac Pilot. Retrieved 2018-02-09. 
  4. ^ "Gladys West's work on GPS 'would impact the world'". StamfordAdvocate. Retrieved 2018-02-09. 
  5. ^ "Seasat". Retrieved 2018-02-09. 
  6. ^ "NASA - NSSDCA - Spacecraft - Details". Retrieved 2018-02-09. 
  7. ^ "Celebrate Black History Month: When you use your GPS, remember Gladys West | The Atlanta Voice". The Atlanta Voice | Atlanta GA News. 2018-02-07. Retrieved 2018-02-09. 
  8. ^ "Forum to Recount Impact of the War Years on Dahlgren and Region". Dahlgren Museum. 2015-06-11. Retrieved 2018-02-09. 
  9. ^ a b Cathy Dyson (2018-01-19). "Gladys West's work on GPS 'would impact the world'". The Free Lance–Star. Retrieved 2018-02-09. 
  10. ^ "Data Processing System Specifications for the Geosat Satellite Radar Altimeter". Naval Surface Weapons Center. 1986. Retrieved 2018-02-09. 
  11. ^ a b Dyson | AP, Cathy (2018-02-01). "Gladys West's work on GPS 'would impact the world'". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-02-09. 
  12. ^ "Meet Gladys West: One Of The 'Hidden Figures' Behind The Creation Of The GPS System". BECAUSE OF THEM, WE CAN. Retrieved 2018-02-09.