Getting us all from point A to point B
They said it couldn't be done. When Bradford Parkinson first started working on a global positioning system (GPS), people were skeptical. "When I got approval to go ahead with it, most people heard the story and thought it was so incredible, they thought it was a pet rock," Parkinson later said.
Guess who got the last laugh? GPS is a navigational system that uses signals from satellites to pinpoint places with great accuracy. Originally developed for the U.S. military to guide missiles to targets, GPS is becoming a standard component of everyday life. GPS systems are found in cars and are used by air traffic controllers, farmers, and rescue workers. They are becoming widely available in mobile phones and other handheld devices.
Born in Minneapolis, Parkinson graduated from Breck School before earning a bachelor's degree from the Naval Academy in 1957 in aeronautics and astronautics. He earned a PhD from Stanford University in 1966. His first GPS system was operational in 1978. Since then he has received numerous awards, including a spot in NASA's Hall of Fame and the National Association of Engineers' Draper Prize, which is akin to receiving a Nobel Prize in the field of engineering. "Many of engineering's great achievements become so much a part of our lives that they are taken for granted," said National Association of Engineers president William A. Wulf in presenting the Draper Prize to Parkinson in 2003. "I think that, without question, GPS is destined for this distinction."
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