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Great Day for the World, Gladys West Receives Air Force Honor

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    Gladys West receives Air Force Honor (Mental Floss)

    Decades after she helped develop Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, 87-year-old Gladys West has received one of the Air Force space program’s highest distinctions, First Coast News reports.

    West was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. earlier this month. The honor was given in recognition of the work she did as one of the agency’s “human computers” in the era predating high-powered data processors. When West joined the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Virginia in 1956, she was one of just four black employees, two of whom were men. One of those men, Ira West, would later become her husband.

    Early in her career, West contributed to an astronomical study that proved the regularity of Pluto’s rotation relative to Neptune. From the mid-1970s through the 1980s, she programmed a computer to come up with a super-accurate model of the Earth, accounting for variations in the planet’s shape caused by gravitational, tidal, and other forces. This model laid the groundwork for the Global Positioning System (GPS) that’s ubiquitous in the military, smartphones, and cars today.

    West retired from the military in 1998, but she hasn’t stopped her pursuit of knowledge. In 2018, she completed her Ph.D. through a remote program with Virginia Tech.

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