Scientist who conceived GPS dies

Saturday, October 18, 2003

LOS ANGELES -- Ivan A. Getting, a Cold War scientist who conceived the global positioning satellite system that enables smart bombs, hikers and motorists to reach their destinations with pinpoint accuracy, has died. He was 91.

Getting, founding president of the military research-and-development company The Aerospace Corp., died Oct. 11 at his home, the company said Friday.

Getting worked on the anti-aircraft radar used in World War II to down German V-1 cruise bombs lobbed at England and, later, worked on various ballistic missile systems.

He also contributed to NASA's Gemini and Mercury space programs.

The physicist is best known for envisioning a system that would use multiple satellite transmitters, coupled with extremely precise clocks, to pinpoint with unparalleled accuracy locations anywhere on Earth.

He later became an advocate of building such a complex system once it was shown to work, helping fight back multiple Pentagon efforts to cancel the program.

In 1978, the Defense Department launched the first of a constellation of satellites that today make up the backbone of GPS, as the system is commonly known. It has been fully operational for a decade and has been used by everyone from fishermen to search crews working to recover fragments of the space shuttle Columbia.

"It was originally developed for military use, but it's extraordinary how its application has spread all over," Getting told The San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this year.

Getting is generally considered the visionary behind GPS, and Stanford University's Bradford Parkinson the man who helped implement the system.

Getting was born in New York City and grew up in Pittsburgh. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a doctorate in astrophysics in 1935.

During World War II, he worked at MIT on the microwave radar systems used to down 95 percent of the V-1 bombs flown against England. He then taught at MIT and later joined Raytheon, where he oversaw development of the Sparrow III and Hawk missile systems.

In the 1950s, Getting was part of a Navy-sponsored panel that recommended development of the submarine-based ballistic missile now known as the Polaris.

Getting joined Aerospace in 1960 and served as president of the nonprofit defense laboratory, retiring in 1977.

He is survived by his wife, Helen, two sons and a daughter. A memorial service was planned Sunday in Coronado.

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