Feb 26, 2013 9:03 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Meet the local inventor of GPS

Most of us have used a GPS. Some of us depend on it.

Its official name is Global Positioning System. The man behind it all lives right here on the Central Coast.

It all came about when Bradford Parkinson, a colonel in the United States Air Force, was asked to work on a struggling program aimed at creating a new navigation satellite system.

Little did anyone know back then the system would become something you and I would use almost every single day.

"I swear, we could've built anything," said Parkinson.

At first, the concept seemed a little out of this world.

"It is all operating off of satellites that are eleven thousand miles away."

In fact, Parkinson says some in the Air Force didn't even want the project to move forward.

"That led to some other little stories where the major general had his big fat finger in my chest as I was walking through the Pentagon saying Parkinson, your otherwise brilliant career is about to go down the tubes," said Parkinson.

Despite concerns over the cost, the system was developed at the Pentagon over Labor Day weekend in 1973. Initially the project was made to be used solely by the military.

"But we knew it would be big," said Parkinson.

GPS is a device that determines your exact location on earth.

Parkinson and his team worked tirelessly for five years to perfect the complex design.

And in February 1978, this long shot endeavor was launched into orbit and history at Vandenberg Air Force Base was made.

"So the people who had all come to watch the launch got to see it for the first hundred feet," said Parkinson, "Then it disappeared into the clouds."

But it wouldn't be long for it to appear all over the map.

"We use GPS to locate distressed mariners out at sea to help us find and coordinate their location," said the Coast Guard.

"We have our tractors using the GPS system which allows him to go straighter, do a little more precision work," said a local farmer.

It's also used by wildlife researchers to track and study animals and every time you fly.
It's safe to say the idea has really taken off.

"I had a long list of civil applications and broadly, I think we covered almost all of them," said Parkinson.

Parkinson, who is a father of six, including San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson, was the launch commander for the first two satellites. There are now a total of 33 GPS satellites in space.



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