GPS: A celebration of the first 50 years

October 23, 2023  - By
Image: David Grim

Image: David Grim

This year marks 50 years since the U.S. Department of Defense approved the design for GPS and first funded the program. It is also the 30-year anniversary of an important milestone – initial operational capability of GPS. Please don’t let its longevity fool you into thinking it is past its prime! GPS is, and will remain, one of the most innovative systems ever designed, funded and operated by the U.S. government.

Today, GPS represents a highly successful public and private partnership, one in which diverse stakeholders continue to coordinate through fora such as the National Executive Committee for PNT and its Advisory Board. and the Civil GPS Service Interface Committee. How did this system become a military, public safety, critical infrastructure, and economic success? The world-class GPS community is made up of the teams and individuals who design, develop and operate these critical technologies as well as the people and organizations that benefit from its applications. From pioneers, scientists, engineers, and Guardians to civil servants, lawmakers, and entrepreneurs, the GPS community has transformed, is transforming, and will continue to transform lives across the globe, and soon, the moon.

GPS World highlighted the important roles played by many early GPS pioneers in a two-part series aptly titled, “Heroes” in the May and June 2010 issues. It has also covered Dr. Gladys West, who is one of the most consequential mathematicians and programmers to contribute to the global success of GPS. Her geodetic models helped refine our understanding of Earth’s shape, which proved fundamental to the success of GPS and its myriad applications. In 2021, the Trimble Foundation established the Dr. Gladys West Scholarship Program. Virginia State University (her alma mater!), North Carolina A&T State University, and Florida International University award four-year scholarships to one student per year to honor Dr. West’s achievements as a woman of science and a woman of color.

A celebration of GPS must also recognize our lawmakers — the people who authorize and appropriate funding for GPS and its augmentation programs. Nearly every U.S. federal department and agency uses these systems to fulfill their missions on behalf of the American people. They also leverage their technical, programmatic, operational, and experiential expertise to ensure that GPS and its augmentation systems remain the best in the world. This work is possible thanks to congressional committees, members of Congress, and staff. The Senate Appropriations and House Appropriations committees, the Senate Armed Services and House Armed Services committees, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation and the House Energy and Commerce committees, the GPS Caucus and many more members of Congress, provide critical oversight and funding. Their support ensures that GPS continues to bring $1.7 trillion and counting in economic benefits to the U.S. economy, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs while enhancing national security, public safety and critical infrastructure.

The future is bright for GPS manufacturers and those developing new applications. To realize their success, projects funded by the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act will depend on GPS to continue to deliver signals that are accurate, have integrity, and are available and continuous in nature. The next enterprising GPS entrepreneur is waiting in the wings

Thanks to a network of determined individuals, GPS-driven technologies — used to support precision agriculture, safe transportation, synchronized global banking, cutting-edge emergency response, elite and amateur sports, and more — are transforming our lives, creating jobs, and promoting growth across the economy.

GPSIA joins other members of the GPS community by celebrating 50 years of GPS and looks forward to the innovations and applications that will shape the next 50 years and beyond.

About the Author: Lisa Dyer

Lisa Dyer is the executive director of the GPS Innovation Alliance.