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It’s hard to remember back to folding up a large paper map accordion style … but before GPS (Global Positioning Systems) became main stream, navigators everywhere had maps spread out on their laps working through the twists and turns that would get them to their destinations.

“The Global Positioning System technology in the United States of America, currently run by the U.S. Air Force, uses at least four satellites. Radio signals are transmitted to earth constantly by orbiting satellites. The closest satellites pinpoint your location through trilateration which is a process that uses time to measure distance (distance = rate x time). As the satellites communicate with each other and the devices on earth, the satellites need a detailed model of earth that contains the surface elevation (so the system can work more effectively).” (1.)

Born in 1930 in Virginia,  Dr. Gladys West was instrumental in the development of GPS with a team at the Naval Laboratory.   She started her employment in 1956 after graduating in mathematics with a Masters in 1955.  During her career, Dr. West programmed orbital calculations on one of the room sized IBM computers and designed algorithms that proved the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune.

Throughout the 70s and 80s, Dr. West worked on prgrammes and calculations to define precise modelling of the shape of the Earth ~ specifically the oceans.  This definition and specifics of the geoid was further enhanced to create the very first use of GPS.

At the time this technology was limited to the military until an executive order, signed by President Regan, allowed for individuals to have access to the algorithm science and from that point forward the race was on to incorporate it into much of the technology we use today.

With any address you look up on your phone map app, the calculations are running behind the scenes to triangulate your location and bounce off the geographic attributes between you and your cited destination…all those instructions coming from the chosen voice on your phone are simply following the signalling of how to get you to your destination based on satellites in spacial orbit that are bouncing signals off the earth and back to you in commands like “Turn left now” ….. Recalculating …..

Dr. West has a memoir available about her life ~ I highly recommend this book ~  it is such an enjoyable read! (2.)



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