We have all read books and watched movies with post-apocalyptic content in which usually some sort of catastrophe causes global blackouts and prevents the whole world from functioning. If we stop just for a second to think about this we realize that it doesn’t come as a surprise to see the end of the world in those cases because our world is now so intertwined and connected with technology, electricity and machinery that it’s hard to imagine living without them.
Such is perhaps the case with GPS as well. Yes, we’ve all heard about it, most of us use it on a daily basis. Even more of us use it without even realizing it. But, do we really know what it is and how it works?
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a sophisticated navigation system created by American Department of Defense for its military purposes. It consists out of 24 satellites which circle around the Earth in a precisely calculated orbit. Receiver on the ground calculates the distance from these satellites and uses this information to determine exact position.
The system was allowed into civilian use in the 1980s.The U.S. Department of Defense has its HQ for this system located at „Falcon Air Force Base“ in Colorado Springs, CO.
Since it is a global system, other countries (such as Russia, India, China, and EU) all want to have a „share of the cake“.
Of course Americans couldn’t just give on a silver platter such an important part of their civilian and military operations, so those countries started to build their own systems, of which the most „popular“ ones are GLONASS and GALILEO. The first one was created by Russian government and the later by European countries, i.e. European Union.
With the ever-present tension between US and Russia there is a lot of material for conspiracy theories claiming that those two biggest forces in theworld are trying to sabotage each others systems. Or what if a next terrorist attack happens high up in the sky and they take down few, or all, of the satellites?
What would happen? What would we lose?
Well, just by dividing the usage of GPS on two areas – military and civilian, we clearly see how enormous the fields in which this system is indispensable are.
To be honest, losing GPS probably wouldn’t cause “the end of the world” or the “death of humankind” but it sure would mean a lot of problems in transportation and movement of people and goods. “Inconveniences” would arise in navigation, surveying, mapping, timing, agriculture, scientific explorations, etc. It is quite hard to imagine fleet management without GPS: trucking, delivery vehicles and public transportation all depend on it. Whether you fly by air, travel by sea or drive on the land your favorite gadget is probably GPS, or “sat nav”.
Learning to read maps or use compass, or maybe even to tell time by the position of the sun in the sky, are all possible outcomes…but, let’s just hope our GPS system stays with us for as long as it is necessary.