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The early days of GPS: How it was adopted by the US military and surveyors

December 4, 2023  - By
1976: The first military GPS five-channel receiver built in one of several programs that studied the feasibility of GPS. The receiver weighed more than 270 pounds and had seats for two operators. (Image: Rockwell Collins/Smithsonian)

1976: The first military GPS five-channel receiver built in one of several programs that studied the feasibility of GPS. The receiver weighed more than 270 pounds and had seats for two operators. (Image: Rockwell Collins/Smithsonian)

Half a century ago, on December 22, 1973, Deputy Secretary of Defense William P. Clements, on the recommendation of the Defense Systems Acquisition and Review Council, directed the entire Department of Defense — through the Navstar GPS Joint Program Office, under the spectacular leadership of  Col. Bradford Parkinson — to proceed with the GPS program. While this magazine mostly focuses on the present and the future, we occasionally pause to remember how it all began.

In the following articles, we are lucky to benefit from the long memories of four gentlemen who were there. Read the full articles.

“Lost in the desert, they demanded GPS” by Gaylord Green

“From ‘We don’t need it’ to ‘We can’t live without it'” by Martin Faga

“They used GPS even before it was fully built” by Dave Zilkoski

“GPS: The birth of the commercial GPS industry and how it changed the world” by Charles R. Trimble

About the Author: Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio, GPS World’s Editor-in-Chief, possesses more than 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for GNSS and geospatial technology magazines. He began his career in the industry in 2000, serving as managing editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World, then as editor of Earth Observation Magazine and GIS Monitor. His technical articles have been published in more than 20 professional magazines, including Professional Surveyor Magazine, Apogeo Spatial and xyHt. Luccio holds a master’s degree in political science from MIT. He can be reached at mluccio@northcoastmedia.net or 541-543-0525.