Gladys West, hired in 1956 as a mathematician at the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory, has been presented with the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers award for her decades of contributions to the Air Force’s space program.
The award is one of Air Force’s Space Commands highest honors.
West, 87, is one of a small group of women who did computing for the U.S. military in the era before electronic systems. In doing so, she participated in a groundbreaking, award-winning astronomical study that proved, during the early 1960s, the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune.
West is also credited for helping to develop technology that that ultimately led to the Global Positioning System.
“Her story is amazing,” Gwen James, a fellow member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, told The Associated Press. “GPS has changed the lives of everyone forever. There is not a segment of this global society — military, auto industry, cellphone industry, social media, parents, NASA, etc. — that does not utilize the Global Positioning System.”
The Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award pays tribute to the leaders of the early years of the Air Force space program, as well as the subsequent innovators whose vision and perseverance overcame the obstacles of the unknown, those who transformed the cutting edge of technology into operational systems, and those who dedicated their lives to exploring space in support of our national security concerns.