AP Wire | 10/18/2003 | Cold War scientist Ivan A. Getting, father of GPS, dies at 91
Cold War scientist Ivan A. Getting, father of GPS, dies at 91
LOS ANGELES - Although Ivan A. Getting developed the global positioning satellite system to keep track of enemy troop movements, the complicated linkage of global transmitters and clocks has come to be embraced by everyone from farmers to fishermen.
Indeed, the system had become so commonplace by the time of Getting's death earlier this month that the scientist himself had a GPS antenna installed on the roof of his home as a hobby.
"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 in February after he and Bradford Parkinson of Stanford University received the National Academy of Engineering's Draper Prize for their work on the system. The award is engineering's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
"It's a passing of an era," Parkinson said Friday. "He spanned quite a bit of the technical continuity of the country."
Getting died Oct. 11 of undisclosed causes at his Coronado home. He was 91.
Throughout his career, Getting focused on the science and technology of war. He worked on the anti-aircraft radar used in World War II to down German V-1 cruise bombs lobbed at England and, later, on various ballistic missile systems.
He also contributed to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Gemini and Mercury space programs, as well as the development of high-power chemical lasers.
In 1960 he co-founded the Aerospace Corp., the El Segundo-based military research and development company, and ran it until his retirement in 1977.
"He was a true patriot and he viewed the contribution that science and technology could make to national defense as something that he could help with and work on," said George Paulikas, Aerospace's retired executive vice president.
Getting is best known, however, for envisioning the GPS, a system that would use multiple satellite transmitters, coupled with extremely precise clocks, to pinpoint with unparalleled accuracy locations anywhere on Earth. The satellites that make up its backbone were launched in 1978.
Over the last 10 years, the system has been used by everyone from fisherman to search crews working to recover fragments of the space shuttle Columbia. It has steered smart bombs and hikers alike to their respective destinations and helped farmers estimate crop yields.
Getting is generally considered the visionary behind GPS, and Parkinson the architect who helped implement the system.
Born Jan. 18, 1912, in New York City and raised in Pittsburgh, Getting was an Edison scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, where he earned a doctorate in astrophysics in 1935.
He worked at MIT on the microwave radar systems used to down 95 percent of the V-1 bombers flown against England during World War II, then turned to teaching after the war. He left MIT to join Raytheon, where he oversaw development of the Sparrow III and Hawk missile systems.
In the 1950s, he was a part of a Navy-sponsored panel that recommended development of the submarine-based ballistic missile now known as the Polaris.
He is survived by his wife, Helen, two sons and a daughter.
A memorial service is planned Sunday in Coronado.