Ivan Getting and the GPS Device

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Facts and information about the Global Positioning System (GPS) device, and Ivan Getting, physicist, electrical engineer, and one of its co-inventors.

First launched in 1978, the development of a global navigation system dates back to the 1960s when the Aerospace Corporation was a principal participant in the conception and development of the GPS. The Global Positioning System (GPS) has not only significantly enhanced the military capabilities but in recent times, more GPS applications have been utilized in everyday living.

What is the Global Positioning System?

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a device that shows the exact position on Earth where we are anytime, anywhere, in any weather. The technical aspect of the system is outside the scope of this article, but simply, the system sends signals that monitor and control GPS operations. With this devise, traditional maps are made redundant as it enables precise and efficient navigation.

For centuries, navigators and explorers used the stars to determine where they were, and humankind has continued to search the heavens, looking for a way of fixing more accurately their position on the globe.

Although the invention of GPS is said to be a team-effort with the U.S. Air Force, Aerospace Corporation and US Naval Research Laboratory, Dr. Ivan Getting is credited as co-inventor of the GPS.

Dr. Ivan Getting and GPS  

Getting had dreamed up the basic idea in the 1950s while serving as vice-president of research and engineering at the Raytheon Corporation. Born in New York City, he earned his physics degree as a Edison scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1933. He attended Oxford University as a graduate Rhodes Scholar earning his DPhil in astrophysics in 1935.

His career was mainly directed in scientific, technical and administrative work to the support of the US military effort. During the 1940s and 1950s, he was responsible for developing a number of missile systems, including the successful weapons system that shot down the German V-1 rockets that targeted London towards the end of Second World War.

Getting’s idea for a global positioning system was to use the electronic signals from satellites on fixed orbits around planet Earth to provide positioning data that could be received by computer systems, also on Earth.

He advanced his idea while serving as the founding president of Aerospace Corporation from 1960 until his retirement in 1977. He used a system of satellite transmitters and atomic clocks to allow the calculation of precise positioning data for rapidly moving vehicles ranging from cars to missiles. His proposal was quickly adopted.

The GPS and its Many Uses

When the US Air Force launched their final Navstar satellite into orbit in 1995, they completed a network of 24 satellites known as the Global Positioning System, the GPS.

Although GPS was initially developed for the US military to guide missiles to targets, it is now routinely used for air traffic control systems, ships, trucks and cars, mechanized farming, search-and-rescue, and tracking environmental changes.  

Ivan Getting was awarded the 1989 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Founders Medal for, “leadership of critical programs and enterprises in radar; advanced electronics, space and navigation as well as service to the engineering profession.”

As a result of his vision and dedication to work, anyone with a relatively inexpensive GPS receiver can instantly learn their location, including latitude, longitude, and even altitude, to within a few hundred feet.

Although the GPS was made possible by a combination of scientific and engineering advances and by co-operation from a variety of government departments, Dr. Ivan Getting played a significant role in GPS’s invention. With it, an explorer, sailor, hiker or even a wanderer, is expected not to get lost.  

 

Sources:

Aerospace Corporation  (and Photo Credit of Dr. Ivan Getting)

People Who Changed the World.  UK: Igloo Books, 2009

 

 

 

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