Black History Month People to Remember
Thank Dr. Gladys West for our access to GPS. She’s a mathematician, born in 1930. The fruits of her work at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren are present in almost every electronic device you own.
NASA columnist, astrophysicist, and science writer Ethan Siegel said of Dr. West, that she is “… a still-living and largely unheralded Black woman whose scientific contributions enabled us to understand geodesy and the shape of the Earth well enough to make GPS technology possible.”
She is known for her contributions to mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth, and her work on the development of satellite geodesy models, that were later incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS). West was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018. She was also awarded the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for the development of satellite geodesy models.
Although Dr. West was not one of the 3 black women who were the inspiration for the book and film “Hidden Figures” which recognized their contribution to NASA’s programs, there is a larger group of black women who worked at NASA and made significant contributions to the Space Race during the same period. Some of these women include:
– Christine Darden was a mathematician and aerospace engineer who worked at NASA for over 40 years. She was one of the few African American women in her field and made significant contributions to supersonic flight research.
– Katherine Peddrew was a mathematician who worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center in the 1950s and 1960s. She was one of the first African American women to work as a professional mathematician at the center.
– Miriam Mann was a mathematician who worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center in the 1940s and 1950s. She was one of the first African American women to work at the center.
– Annie Easley was a computer scientist and mathematician who worked at NASA’s Lewis Research Center (now Glenn Research Center) in the 1950s and 1960s. She was one of the first African American women to work as a computer scientist at the center.