COLORADO SPRINGS, Co. – "Hidden Figure" and mathematician Dr. Gladys West has accepted the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers award.
She joined the elite list of professionals recognized by the Air Force Space Command just before 2018 came to an end. In a news release, the Air Force Space Command Public Affairs Office announced Lt. Gen. David Thompson, Air Force Space Command vice commander, presented Dr. West with one of their highest honors 19 days before Christmas.
Dr. West was unable to attend the formal ceremony held in her honor at the Pentagon in Washington on Aug. 28, where she was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame.
On Dec. 6 she was publicly recognized for her work as a member of a team of black female professionals who did computing for the U.S. military in the era before electronic systems. She excelled professionally in the midst of Jim Crow segregation and among an industry dominated by white men in the 1950s and 1960s. She is what some have called a hidden-figure, referencing the three-time Academy Award-winning film "Hidden Figures," starring Taraji P. Henson.
Dr. West was hired in 1956 as a mathematician at the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory. She is credited for what ultimately became the Global Positioning System (GPS) orbit.
She developed GPS by programming an IBM 7030 “Stretch” computer which delivered pinpoint calculations for an extremely accurate geodetic Earth model.
Dr. West participated in a path-breaking, award-winning astronomical study that proved, during the early 1960s, the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune.
Dr. West is 87 years old and a graduate of Virginia State University.
The Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers award pays tribute to the leaders past and present who have the vision and resilience to overcome obstacles. These innovators dedicate their lives to their work to transform the cutting edge of technology and explore space in support of our national security concerns.