‘Thank You Gladys for the GPS’ – Installation


Dr Gladys Mae West

1          Born 27th October 1930, Gladys is an American mathematician known for her contributions to the mathematical modelling 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 (GPS).

2          Gladys was a programmer in the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division for large-scale computers and a project manager for data-processing systems used in the analysis of satellite data. Concurrently, West earned a second master’s degree in public administration from the University of Oklahoma.

3          In the early 1960s, she participated in an award-winning astronomical study that proved the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune. After that, West began to analyze data from satellites, putting together models of the Earth’s shape. She became project manager for the Seasat radar altimetry project, the first satellite that could remotely sense oceans.

4          From the mid-1970s through the 1980s, Gladys programmed an IBM 7030 Stretch computer to deliver increasingly precise calculations to model the shape of the Earth. In her autobiography, ‘It began with a Dream’, Gladys spoke of some of the complex problems she solved, which had proven too difficult for other members of the team. West’s model ultimately became the basis for the Global Positioning System (GPS).

5          In 2018, Gladys completed a PhD via a distance-learning program with the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. She was in her late 80s at that time.

6          Despite contributing to the invention of the GPS, Gladys continues to prefer using a paper map over a tracking system, saying she still trusts her brain above all.

7          Like NASA mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, Gladys is often called one of history’s “hidden figures”.

8          In 1986, Gladys published Data Processing System Specifications for the Geosat Satellite Radar Altimeter, a 51-page technical report from The Naval Surface Weapons Center (NSWC).

9          West worked at Dahlgren for 42 years. She retired in 1998. After retiring, she completed a PhD in Public Administration from Virginia Tech.

 Gladys says

“I’m a doer, hands-on kind of person. If I can see the road and see where it turns and see where it went, I am more sure.”

“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.’

“Always doing things just right, to set an example for other people who were coming behind me, especially women.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

  Judy Bourke 2023


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