By Senior Airman Naomi Griego
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
More than 200 guests filled the conference room at the Antlers Hilton Hotel Friday in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to celebrate one thing, one ginormous thing, that provides a free global utility to more than 3 billion users — the GPS.
Lt. Col. Matthew Brandt, 2nd Space Operations Squadron director of operations, acknowledged a need for such an event since the beginning of his career in space.
During the ceremony, he told an anecdote about what set off his eagerness to learn more about the history of GPS. While visiting Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, a gentleman who was working with Brandt pointed to some abandoned buildings and trailers and said “that’s where we used to do GPS operations.”
Brandt, skeptical at first, dug through worn conduit and trash to salvage any bit of GPS history that may have survived the decades. All he could find was a few damaged pages of telemetry from the satellites.
“This thing called GPS is such a treasure to humanity, and this is where it began, and I wanted to know more,” he said. “So I started looking and asking people to tell me their story.”
“What was your part of this thing called GPS,” said Brandt.
Brandt sought out the help of his squadron and set forth on a busy two-month journey of planning and coordination.
“I wanted to get our newest and youngest Airmen and officers together with the pioneers of GPS so they could hear the stories and the heritage could be passed on,” he said.
The celebration boasted distinguished guests whose significant work played an essential role in early beginnings of GPS. One of those guests was Dr. Brad Parkinson, one of the founding fathers of GPS.
“In my humble opinion, we must protect and augment GPS to ensure it meets the user’s needs,” said Parkinson. “We have to protect the signal and we have to react when necessary.”
Parkinson asked why GPS became the signal for humanity.
“The signals are great, accuracies down to a millimeter, availability close to 100 percent, and a GPS receiver costs about a dollar and a half,” he responded.
Parkinson, who was there when support for the concept of GPS was scarce, said even he is astonished at how far it has come and said there is still more.
Lt. Col. Todd Benson concluded the ceremony by jokingly saying first there was fire, then electricity, then bacon, then GPS.
“The goal of tonight was to share the historic legacy of GPS with our newest generation by highlighting the past, present and future,” said Benson.
And as if they don’t already contribute enough to humanity, the squadrons presented two deserving high school students scholarships towards their college education.
“The tapestry of GPS is made of high quality threads of active-duty Airmen, reservists, contractors, government civilians, space operators, engineers, analysts and mathematicians,” Benson said. “Each and every one of you plays a vital role in these rapidly evolving successes.”
Benson added “We can rest assured we will push this mighty machine into the future, as GPS will accomplish feats never imagined.”