Letter to the Editor: History Articles Set Record Straight

October 1, 2010  - By

I was relieved to see that the facts related to the conception of GPS were clearly laid out in the two-part article “GPS Heroes” (May and June issues). During the past few years, erroneous information about the early years of GPS development has circulated in some military, engineering, and scientific circles.These stories centered on some version of the idea that GPS’ design originated with the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and within the patent submitted for Timation by the NRL’s Roger Easton; the U.S. Air Force and The Aerospace Corporation were conspicuously missing from the various scenarios that credited Roger Easton with “inventing” GPS.

I have had the privilege to record and publish oral history interviews with several GPS pioneers, including Drs. Getting and Parkinson and Ed Lassiter. I also had 
opportunities to speak to many more early GPS participants off the record, including retired Air Force personnel and several non-Aerospace employees, when conducting background research for an article 
dealing with the beginnings and 
subsequent implementation of GPS.

My research included a review of many of the primary documents relating to GPS’ origins, including the Woodford/Nakamura study completed for 621B in 1966, and several subsequent studies. I can state emphatically that during the course of my research, I never encountered any evidence indicating that NRL’s/Easton’s Timation system was the progenitor of GPS. In fact, as the authors point out, Timation was considered and rejected by 621B personnel when planning the original system.

Not a single person I spoke to has ever provided me with any version of GPS’ genealogy other than the one related by Parkinson and Powers. The majority of the interviewees, on or off the record, gave NRL and Mr. Easton ample praise for their significant contribution to satellite navigation through the development of the Timation system; no one even remotely carried this acknowledgement and 
appreciation of Timation as an antecedent to GPS any further, historically speaking. After discussing Timation with several 
interview subjects familiar with the 
system, it became clear there was a general consensus that Timation simply did not have the necessary capabilities to meet the requirements for the GPS design that was ultimately selected.

With the publication of Parkinson’s and Powers’ article, GPS World has provided an excellent public forum for the presentation of the facts, not the folklore, regarding the historical origins of GPS, clearly and in detail for the GPS community.

Steven Strom
El Segundo, California

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