Whereas taking a street journey, in search of that sizzling new restaurant or in search of your new workplace constructing, what device has turn out to be useful greater than a World Positioning System (GPS)? Perhaps a automobile, however that is inappropriate. Having a GPS on our telephones makes getting round extra environment friendly. And whereas we might not give our GPS a second thought as soon as we have reached our vacation spot, there’s a fascinating story behind it.
The outstanding hidden determine, Dr. Gladys West, was a real pioneer who pushed previous racial boundaries and contributed to the invention of the GPS. With out her curious spirit and quest for information, she might by no means have ended up the place she wanted to be.
It All Started With a Dream
Born in 1930 in Sutherland, Virginia, West spent a lot of her childhood — when not at school — harvesting crops on her household farm. In her memoir, It Started With A Dream, she remembers strolling the three miles to the segregated, one-room schoolhouse “with rusty, decrepit furnishings, typically leaky ceilings and at all times hand-me-down books.”
Difficult Racial Limitations
There weren’t many alternatives for younger Black ladies in her group that did not contain farming or working at a tobacco plant. However West needed and knew she was destined for extra. She overcame racial boundaries in science and math.
“Every single day, I wanted and dreamed of getting extra — extra books, extra lecture rooms, extra lecturers and extra time to dream and picture what life could be like if solely I may fly away from the strenuous and seemingly endless work on our household farm,” she mentioned in her memoir.
It would not be lengthy earlier than that dream got here true.
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Dr. Gladys West Early Life
West labored and studied onerous, graduating as valedictorian from her highschool. Her excessive educational efficiency earned her a scholarship to the HBCU Virginia State Faculty — which is now Virginia State College. It was there that West earned each her bachelor’s and grasp’s levels in arithmetic, ending up in 1955.
Discovering Alternative within the Navy
Earlier than returning for her grasp’s, West labored as a math instructor. In between incomes her levels, she tried discovering a job with the federal government; nevertheless, she was unsuccessful on account of racial segregation and sexism. In 1956, West was lastly supplied a job with the U.S. Navy.
Throughout her lengthy and profitable profession, West returned to high school and earned a second grasp’s diploma in public administration from The College of Oklahoma in 1973. After retiring in 1998 from her job with the U.S. Navy on the age of 68, West attended the Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI) and earned a Ph.D. in public administration and coverage affairs at 70 years outdated.
Excelling Above the Relaxation
In her memoir, West recounts how whereas incomes her Ph.D. at VPI, she assumed her fellow counterparts — a lot of them highly-educated white males — could be smarter than her. They’d gone to raised faculties and have been afforded higher alternatives. Nonetheless, she discovered she may maintain her personal and sometimes carried out higher than her friends.
“I discovered I used to be fairly sensible, particularly in comparison with a few of my classmates who did not know as a lot as I did. A few of them failed assessments and got the exams over so they may keep within the Ph.D. program,” she mentioned in her memoir.
A Sensible Pupil
West additionally defined how learning at an HBCU taught her greater than the topic information. “Those that didn’t get their work completed due to an absence of effort have been despatched residence. No make-up assessments, no breaks, no ifs, ands or buts as a result of they have been getting ready us for the tough world of discrimination and prejudice that lie forward of us,” mentioned West in her memoir.
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Breaking Feminine Limitations
When West joined the U.S. Navy in 1956 as a mathematician for the U.S. Naval Proving Floor — a weapons lab in Virginia. She was one among 4 Black workers, together with Ira V. West, a fellow mathematician, and future husband. Collectively, she and Ira ultimately had three kids.
Noteworthy Feminine Mathematician
Whereas working for the U.S. Naval Proving Floor, West solved complicated math equations by hand, although she ultimately programmed computer systems to calculate equations for her. One in all her first main tasks included the Naval Ordnance Analysis Calculator (NORC) — a program that helped observe the actions of Pluto in relation to Neptune. After 100 hours of laptop programming and 5 billion calculations, the venture obtained a advantage award.
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Inventing the GPS
From there, she turned the venture supervisor for SEASAT, an experimental surveillance satellite tv for pc that operated for 99 days, orbiting Earth. It was designed to gather knowledge on components of the ocean, together with wave heights, icebergs and temperatures. It was the primary program to show satellites may acquire helpful ocean knowledge.
West and her colleagues may then type GEOSAT — a satellite tv for pc program that created laptop fashions of the planet’s floor. By this, satellite tv for pc actions might be precisely calculated, and a mannequin of Earth fashioned — also called a geoid. These fashions are what helped make the GPS an correct device.
In December 2018, Dr. Gladys West was inducted into the Air Pressure House and Missile Pioneers Corridor of Fame, proving her exceptional influence on science and the Air Pressure area program.
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