Using 'lighthouses in the sky'

Ivan Getting (New York City, January 18, 1912 – Coronado, California, October 11, 2003)

As the name suggests, the GPS is part of a global (global) system for positioning (positioning) anything. What the acronym does not indicate is that the system is military in origin and remains under US military control.

This is done from Colorado Springs, on the Rocky Mountains, by the 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base. About 6,000 people work there, 150 of whom work for the GPS Operations Center (GPSOC), a division of the 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2nd SOPS).

Named after General Bennie Schriever, "the father of the United States Air Force's space program," Schriever Base is a cozy base.

You can e-mail, call and write to the GPS center, and follow the ins and outs of the small community with their Internet newspaper, the Satellite Flyer.

The GPSOC monitors the system 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These are 24 satellites that revolve around the earth in six fixed orbits at an altitude of 20,200 km and each transmit unique radio signals. The secret of the GPS is that distance is measured with time.

By measuring the distance to at least four satellites in time, the location of the GPS receiver can be determined. Because time is so crucial, each satellite contains three or four atomic clocks, and they tell time to the billionth of a second.

In addition, the influence of the forces of the earth, sun and moon is very real.

That is why not only from Colorado Springs, but also from four additional ground stations around the world - Hawaii, Ascension, Diego Garcia and Kwajalein (an atoll of the Marshall Islands) - everything is closely monitored.

On May 1, 1960, Soviet air defenses over Russian territory shot down an American U2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers.

The aircraft remained almost completely intact after the crash - including all aircraft and the spy photos and the pilot could be captured.

The incident set back the peace talks between Presidents Eisenhower and Khrushchev, aimed at putting the Cold War behind them, for years. How could you trust consultation with someone who was spying on you at the same time?

In the same year 1960, the US government had set up The Aerospace Corporation to combine all military and civilian forces in space technology after the launch of the Soviet-Russian Sputnik in 1957.

The crucial question was: how can you keep an eye on the enemy without endangering human lives with espionage assignments? Both the US Navy and Air Force had aspects of the current GPS system in place, including technology to launch and track guided missiles.

That is also why the invention of the GPS can hardly be attributed to one person, the reason that more scientists claim it.

Anyway, the Ministry of Defense organized the forces. The man best suited to coordinate those efforts on the civilian side was Ivan Getting, who had overseen missile production at the weapons manufacturer Raytheon since 1951.

He became the founder and first president of The Aerospace Corporation in 1960.

Over the years, the GPS project was sometimes pushed forward, sometimes backwards, sometimes it just came to a standstill. Because the lunar program took precedence, say, or because it gobbled up money, totaling $8.2 billion. That's how President Nixon brought it to a halt in 1969.

Ronald Reagan opened up the GPS for civilian use in 1983 after the downing of a Korean Boeing 747, giving the plan another boost. After the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, doubts arose again about the usefulness of the shuttle and the GPS.

And that shuttle was needed to put the satellites into orbit. That is why it took from 1978 to 1994 – sixteen years – for the necessary satellites to be deployed.

The "military scientist" Ivan Getting, in whose head the idea had originated, remained the great advocate of the global navigation system through thick and thin, government after government, through thick and thin, long after his official retirement.

Ivan Getting was born in New York in 1912, the third son of Slovak immigrant Milan Getting.

During the First World War, his father was one of the top employees of the future Czechoslovak presidents Masaryk and Benes, who in those years prepared the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic in the United States.

Milan Getting led the PR campaign for the foundation of Czechoslovakia in the US and from 1924-1932 he was head of the press office of the Czechoslovak embassy in Washington. Ivan Getting grew up in Pittsburgh, where his father later served as consul.

He was a brilliant student. In 1929 he was able to attend MIT, the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on a personal grant from Thomas Edison, who was still alive at the time.

And very proudly that university announced in 1932 that for the third time in history one of its students, Ivan Getting, had won the Rhodes scholarship. He was allowed to go to the British Oxford for two years, to study whatever he wanted.

The MIT also reported that the exemplary student played piano and organ and excelled as a gymnast on parallel bars and vault. Getting received his doctorate in astrophysics from Oxford in 1935.

The American scientific world changed in September 1940 when a group of top British soldiers and scientists came in a panic begging for support against German aggression. In return, the British brought their best invention, the radar, the microwave radar, the microwave oven.

The American experts pounced on the radar. MIT immediately set up a separate laboratory for it, the Radiation Laboratory, Rad Lab for short, which would only exist during the war. Getting, who worked nearby, became one of its key employees.

Together with his chief Louis Ridenour, he developed the anti-aircraft installation SCR-584, which would literally save ravaged London from the fire in 1944.

Getting into an interview fifty years later: 'I was very anti-Hitler. I thought Czechoslovakia was an excellent example of democratic government in Europe. Hitler could just walk into it in 1938.

That Chamberlain accepted this through the Munich Agreement greatly disappointed me. France fell, and Belgium, as well as Norway and Sweden came under the control of the Nazis, it seemed as if Hitler was unstoppable.'

He threw himself madly into the refinement, improvement and expansion of the radar. The SCR-584 combined three novelties: the world's first automatic tracking radar; a mechanical computer system to track fast-moving targets, and a new attachment to artillery shells.
For example, the Americans took over the leading edge of radar technology from the British. The Rad Lab was already up and running in October, and Getting's advanced new installation was ready by December 1941, a few days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

At one point, the Rad Lab employed 4,000 people and developed over a hundred different radar systems.

In the early hours of June 13, 1944, a week after the Normandy landings, the English off the south coast heard the strange buzzing sound of a new kind of bomb they called the "doodlebug" (large Australian insect): a ton heavy, engine powered, flying too fast and too low for the classic anti-aircraft defenses.

The V1 (V stood for Vergeltung, revenge) did massive damage. Gettings SCR-584, installed in a trailer, was the answer. It worked with a parabolic antenna that emitted microwaves and whose cone rotated with the target at lightning speed.

After the first tests, Getting had already said: 'It was just like magic.' By August, the British military (with American advice) had shot down 80 percent of the V1s.

From 1951 to 1960, in the middle of the Cold War, as Raytheon's vice president, Getting was responsible for producing a range of long-range missiles, the Sparrow, the Hawk. And from 1960 to 1977, when he turned 65, he was a director of The Aerospace Corporation.

In that position, he and his right-hand man Bradford Parkinson were responsible for pushing through the GPS system.

In his old age – he turned 91 – he vividly remembered turning to General Westmoreland during the Vietnam War to find support for his GPS idea.

And how Westmoreland sent him walking, saying, 'Don't bother me with something that will exist ten years from now.

Tell me how to get the equipment I need now.' Getting witnessed the first use of GPS during the first Gulf War of 1990-1991, both for bomb guidance and for the orientation of the army.

Shortly after his death, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2004, along with Bradford Parkinson, who would lead the implementation of the GPS project from 1977.

On May 17, 1995, the US announced the general availability of the GPS system. And on May 1, 2000 that the difference between military and civilian precision was abolished.

Nevertheless, the countries of the European Union continued to feel uncomfortable with the US GPS tutelage and started working on their own system called Galileo.

Ivan Gettting, the shrewd son of a Slovak immigrant in New York, who had to watch first Hitler and then Stalin overrun his country, had a plaque placed on one of "his" GPS satellites with the words: "Lighthouses in the Sky Serving All Mankind'.