Gladys West was born in 1930 in Virginia. It is a state in the South of the United States where at the time to be born into a black family is to start life with a serious handicap. Disability that Gladys West will catch up with tenacity and courage, in particular by walking 10 kilometers on foot every day to go to school.
It is a path that she occupies by counting the posts of the fences and evaluating their spacing. Gladys West thus by chance develops a certain taste for mathematics which will lead her to become a woman whose work serves us every day… Determined to get out of her condition, she succeeds in get a scholarship reserved only for two best in his school.
But once at the university, he has to find enough to pay for a room and his food. Convinced of his enormous potential, his maths teacher offers him to babysit at home. Gladys earns a master’s degree and is offered a position at Dahlgren, a naval base where American technologies are developed. From 1956, he was entrusted with the computer programming and coding. An inveterate hard worker, it is through her work and her successes that she ends up overcoming the segregation of which she is a victim, including on the naval base.
His brilliant works lead him to be entrusted with the programming of the IBM 7030 Stretch, the most powerful of all at the time and a mission: to succeed in modeling the Earth to the nearest millimeter from several years of satellite data. She succeeds and the result of this titanic work will serve as the basis for the development of a satellite navigation system: the Global Positioning System, GPS.
In 2018, she was inducted into the US Air Force Hall of Fame.
It is thanks to Gladys West that the GPS is set up for the army in 1973 and for all of us 20 years later. Modest and focused on her work, she did not immediately realize the scope of her research. It was only in 1998 that glory was given to her thanks to young university sisters who discovered her huge contribution.
In 2018, Gladys West is the first woman inducted into the United States Air Force Space Pioneers Hall of Fame thanks to the GPS which she admitted never using. She prefers paper road maps on which she can see the road, “I am a person of action, of the practical type” explains Gladys West, 91 years old today, this Illustrious Unknown who is no longer!