Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. — Lt. Gen. David Thompson, Air Force Space Command vice commander, presented Dr. Gladys West with the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers award for her decades of contributions to the Air Force’s space program. West was unable to attend the formal induction ceremony that took place August 28, where three others joined the elite list of professionals who have greatly impacted the Air Force space program.
West is among a small group of women who did computing for the U.S. military in the era before electronic systems. Hired in 1956 as a mathematician at the U.S. Naval Weapons Laboratory, she participated in a path-breaking, award-winning astronomical study that proved, during the early 1960s, the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune. Thereafter, from the mid-1970s through the 1980s, using complex algorithms to account for variations in gravitational, tidal and other forces that distort Earth’s shape, she programmed an IBM 7030 “Stretch” computer to deliver increasingly refined calculations for an extremely accurate geodetic Earth model, a geoid, optimized for what ultimately became the Global Positioning System (GPS) orbit.
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.