The History of GPS Technology


by Mark Etinger - Date: 2009-01-22 - Word Count: 474 Share This!

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With GPS devices now in millions of cars, cellphones and purses around the country, it is hard to imagine that only a decadeago, the technology was used almost exclusively by large corporations and themilitary. But time has moved fast forGlobal Positioning Systems, which makes sense given that the story of GPS'history begins with a measure of time.

It all starts with TIME

GPS technology exists today because scientistssought a way to measure time more accurately than it had ever been measuredbefore. And so, they developed theAtomic Clock, a super-accurate device that measure the time within a billionthof a second.

But the Atomic Clock was not created in order tokeep scientists from being late for dinner.They used the accuracy of the clock to test Einstein's theory ofrelativity as it pertained to time and space.

Using Atomic Clocks to measure time andspace

With these atomic clocks, scientists andengineers discovered that there were slight discrepancies in time around theglobe. They began to position the clockseverywhere from Mount Everest to the Gobi Desert and then looked for tiny differencesin the time in each of the locations.This information helped confirm Einstein's view of the universe andwould soon become a key part of satellite technology.

Sputnik and the creation of a militaryGPS system

When the Russians launched Sputnik in the 1950's,scientists quickly learned that the satellite could be used to track locationson the ground by beaming a signal up to the satellite - and having a responsereturned to Earth. How that messagetraveled determined the location of the satellite relative to a point on theplanet.

The US Navy soon began launching satellites oftheir own, and used them in key military actions to help troops engage in theproper battle locations and assist large ships circumnavigating the globe.

After a time, Navy engineers realized that enoughsatellites, placed in very specific positions with an orbit around the earth,would create a clear picture of our planet - and that this "picture" could beused map out individual points around the globe with stunning accuracy.

Completion of the System

In 1993, it all came together. The United States Navy launched the 24thof 24 carefully placed satellites into orbit - and the Global PositioningSystem was born. The satellites arepositioned in such a way that now anyone with an inexpensive GPS device can locatetheir position (or another location) anywhere on the planet. And to think, it all began with Einstein anda group of scientists who wanted to find the ultimate measure of time.


Today GPS devices are a useful tool for manyAmericans. The technology has becomevery affordable and helps individuals obtain proper directions to theirlocation while using a minimal amount of gas or time. And if someone had told you twenty years agothat GPS technology would be a "hot Christmas gift", chances are you wouldn'thave given them the time of day.



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