Richard Easton

Think about the last time you had to travel somewhere that you were unfamiliar with. Maybe you were meeting a friend at a new coffee shop across town, or you want to try that burger place where they place full lobster tails on top of a patty and smother it in American Cheese. You’ve never been to either location, so how would you get there? Twenty years ago, you might have jumped on to your AOL account and print off the MapQuest directions, maybe have your friend that has been there before give you directions. (How fun was “…make a left after the third stoplight that is just before the green and grey building, but if you see the grey and green building you’ve gone too far…”?) Before that, you maybe would break out the coffee table book-sized Rand McNally and try and chart out your course to the best of your knowledge. Today, however, you simply pull out your phone, look up the restaurant or coffeeshop, and not only can you see what you’ll order in advance, you can also get turn by turn directions from a built-in global positioning system. This week on The Malliard Report, Jim welcomes Richard D. Easton to the show to discuss the history of how GPS came to be the invaluable tool that is used today.

Richard Easton is the son of Roger L. Easton, who was an acclaimed physicist and principal inventor of GPS. “…In 1955, Roger Easton co-wrote the Naval Research Laboratory’s Project Vanguard proposal for a U.S. satellite program in competition with two other proposals, including a proposal from the U.S. Army prepared by Wernher Von Braun. The Eisenhower Administration selected Project Vanguard. In 1957, Easton invented the Minitrack tracking system to determine the Vanguard satellite’s orbit. When Sputnik I was launched, Easton extended the system to actively follow unknown orbiting satellites. In 1959, he designed the Naval Space Surveillance (NAVSPASUR) system. The Naval Space Surveillance System became the first system to detect and track all types of Earth-orbiting objects. It goes through the 33rd parallel, which is effectively coast to coast of the US. Later in his career at NRL, Easton conceived, patented, and led the development of essential enabling technologies for the United States Global Positioning System (GPS). During the 1960s and early 1970s he developed a time-based navigational system with passive ranging, circular orbits, and space-borne high precision clocks placed in satellites. The idea was tested with four experimental satellites: TIMATION I and II (in 1967 and 1969) and Navigation Technology Satellites (NTS) 1 and 2 (in 1974 and 1977). NTS-2 was the first satellite to transmit GPS signals.”

In Richard’s book GPS Declassified, Richard examines the development of GPS from its secret, Cold War military roots to its emergence as a worldwide consumer industry. Drawing on previously unexplored documents, the authors examine how military rivalries influenced the creation of GPS and shaped public perceptions about its origin. Since the United States’ first program to launch a satellite in the late 1950s, the nation has pursued dual paths into space—one military and secret, the other scientific and public. Among the many commercial spinoffs this approach has produced, GPS arguably boasts the greatest impact on our daily lives. You can find Richard’s book on any major online retailer. For all things Malliard, head over to malliard.com where you can join in on the live chat every Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST, grab your favorite merch, and much more. Remember to like and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.