This is definitely some much-needed good news.
Dr. Gladys West, an 87-year-old mathematician who played a major role in the invention of GPS, was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame earlier this month.
According to an Air Force press release, the “hidden figure” and STEM innovator was among a small group of women who did computing for the U.S. military in the era before electronic systems. West was hired in 1956 as a mathematician at the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory, where she worked on an award-winning astronomical study that proved the planet Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune.
During the mid-1970s through the 1980s, she also helped program an IBM 7030 “Stretch” computer that delivered “refined calculations for an extremely accurate geodetic Earth model. This program ended up becoming the Global Positioning System (GPS) orbit.
Here’s a video of the Air Force giving the illustrious doctor her well-deserved recognition. While she could not attend the event in Washington D.C, we’re sure she was there in spirit.
According to an earlier BBC report, Dr. West was born in 1930, in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, to a family of farmers. While she grew up working on the tobacco and cotton fields, West knew she wanted to leave at some point and pursue an education.
“I thought at first I needed to go to the city. I thought that would get me out of the country and out of the fields,” she told BBC back in May.
“But then as I got more educated, went into the higher grades, I learned that education was the thing to get me out.”
She went on to win a scholarship to attend Virginia State College where she eventually major in math, a subject she pointed out was dominated by men.
“You felt a little bit different. You didn’t quite fit in as you did in home economics. You’re always competing and trying to survive because you’re in a different group of people.”
Thankfully, the breast cancer survivor and AKA prospered and went to work with the military, where she later made history.
With so many Black women being behind some of the biggest innovations of the 21st century, it’s so important that finally they their due. Congrats Dr. West!
We’re confident that she will continue to inspire future Black girls to enter the world of math and science.