Doctor Ian Getting and the Global Positioning System (GPS)

GPS or the Global Positioning System was invented by the U.S. D.O.D.

A woman checks her GPS signal in Barcelona
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GPS, or the Global Positioning System, was invented by the U.S. Department of Defense (D.O.D) and Ivan Getting, and cost taxpayers $12 billion. Eighteen satellites—six in each of three orbital planes spaced 120 degrees apart—and their ground stations formed the original GPS. Using these man-made "stars" as reference points to calculate geographical positions, GPS is accurate to a matter of meters.

Advanced forms can even make measurements to better than a centimeter.

Ivan Getting Biography

Dr. Ivan Getting was born in 1912 in New York City. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an Edison Scholar, receiving his Bachelor of Science in 1933. After his undergraduate studies at MIT, Getting was a graduate-level Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Astrophysics in 1935. In 1951, Ivan Getting became the vice president for engineering and research at the Raytheon Corporation.

Nascent Technology

The first three-dimensional, time-difference-of-arrival-position-finding system was suggested by Raytheon Corporation in response to an Air Force requirement for a guidance system to use with a proposed ICBM that would travel on a railroad system. By the time Getting left Raytheon in 1960, this proposed technique was among the most advanced forms of navigational technology in the world.

Getting's concepts were crucial stepping stones in the development of the Global Positioning System. Under his direction, Aerospace engineers and scientists studied the use of satellites as the basis of a navigation system for vehicles moving rapidly in three dimensions, ultimately developing the concept essential to GPS.

Dr. Getting's Legacy and Uses for GPS

Although the Global Positioning System's satellite network was designed predominantly for navigation, it is gaining ground as a timing tool, as well. Getting's ideas built technology that can pinpoint any ship or submarine on the ocean and measure Mount Everest. Receivers have been miniaturized to just a few integrated circuits, becoming increasingly economical and mobile. Today, GPS has found its way into cars, boats, planes, construction equipment, video gear, farm machinery, and laptop computers.