It has been said that the modern day mobile phone has more power than the computer that coordinated the first Moon landing in 1969. And thanks to GPS – Global Positioning System – this is not the only way that the exploration of space echoes through our daily lives.
In 1974 the Global Positioning System was described as “a space-based radio navigation system which will provide suitably equipped GPS users with the capacity to precisely determine three-dimensional position, velocity and time information”. At this point it was seen as a military tool, but in 1983 President Reagan ordered that it should be made available for civilian use once the technology was sufficiently advanced. Initially, signals provided for civilian use were deliberately downgraded but in 2000 “selective availability” was switched off and the new century saw the dawn of a new age.
The free use of GPS has led to thousands of applications for positioning and time information. Perhaps the most famous application is Google Earth. Of course the system is now neatly integrated into all navigation aids, in cars and smartphones. Other key GPS applications exist for tracking, agriculture, surveying and simple recreation. When it comes to time synchronisation global financial markets, power suppliers and communication networks all rely on GPS. In our own way, we’re all astronauts now.