Markets Technology

GPS Declassified – From Smart Bombs to Smart Phones

Richard Easton contacted me just about a year ago to compliment Paul Ceruzzi on his work in “GPS” and to encourage me to read his book “GPS Declassified: From Smart Bombs to Smart Phones. Both of these would be an excellent way to stay occupied.

GPS Declassified - Dad used to tinker with the Vanguard 1 on our dining room table. I’m wearing the red coat with it shortly before its launch in March 1958.

GPS Declassified – Dad used to tinker with the Vanguard 1 on our dining room table. I’m wearing the red coat with it shortly before its launch in March 1958.

Here’s a guest post from Richard Easton providing incredible background on the development of GPS

I became interested in the history of GPS in 2005. My father, Roger Easton, designed many satellites including the Vanguard 1, helped design two space tracking systems (Minitrack and the Naval Space Surveillance System), co-wrote the proposal for what became Project Vanguard, and started Timation (TIMe navigATION) which combined with Project 621B became GPS in 1973.

It rapidly became clear that the standard GPS story bore only a minor resemblance to that told by primary source documents and articles in “Aviation Week and Space Technology”.  It’s been said that the victors write the history. Since the Air Force was selected as the lead service in space by McNamara in 1961, they were selected to lead the GPS Joint Program Office in 1973 and the histories then extant badly distorted the nature and importance of Timation. I’m an actuary by day but have significant historical training.

In February 2006, Dad received the National Medal of Technology. At the banquet, it met Bob Whitlock, who with Tom McCaskill was working on an Annotated Bibliography of NRL’s (Naval Research Lab where my father worked) contribution to GPS. Bob provided me with many primary source materials. In May 2006, I published my first article on GPS.

That article is still cited today. Art McCoubrey, who designed some of the early atomic clocks, praised it highly. The Deputy Command Historian at Air Force Space Command, Rick Sturdevant, cited it in a talk he gave at the Air and Space Museum that September.  He wrote the foreword to the book.

I then started working on a book but had no success in finding an agent or a publisher. In 2010, my coauthor Eric Frazier contacted me and we agreed to join forces. The following year, we signed a contract with Potomac Books which was bought by The University of Nebraska Press in 2013. Our book, “GPS Declassified: From Smart Bombs to Smartphones”, was published that October.

In 2016, the National Security Space Institute named it as recommend reading for their professional reading list. That July, we gave a talk which Gen Hyten, then commander of AF Space Command, introduced. Recently, the Air Power School has been reading it.

One major controversy is whether Brad Parkinson and the GPS JPO invented GPS at the Lonely Halls Meeting at the Pentagon over Labor Day 1973.

Many people from NRL insist that there was a second meeting at the Motel on Spring Hill Rd where Navy Capt David Holmes offered Parkinson Timation to replace the rejected 621B. Holmes’s daughter found a slide presentation he made which mentions this and is included in the book. I also found a 21 September 1973 document which shows that GPS stems from decisions made AFTER Labor Day.

Another controversy is whether civilian use of GPS arose from the 1983 shooting down of KAL 007. I have on our website a 1974 GPS document which mentions a signal in the clear for both civilian and military use.

The book reflects original interviews with many of the participants. For example, did the only interviews of Chester Kleczek (original funder of Timation in 1964) and Harry Sonnemann (twice head of NAVSEG) of their roles in GPS.

My research is continuing. I’m still trying to find the 4 September 1973 DCP which may shed additional light on GPS.

My talks include:

2009 plenary address to the Guidance, Navigation and Control Conference AIAA

2012 British Interplanetary Society

2012 National Maritime Museum

2014 Explorers Club NYC

2016 The Science of Time – Harvard

2016 Air Force Space Command

2017 New York Military Affairs Symposium

Thanks Richard for all of the work you are doing on this – fascinating.

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