Home Geospatial Applications Miscellaneous Ivan Getting, 91, Father of GPS, dies

Ivan Getting, 91, Father of GPS, dies

r. Ivan Getting, a major force behind the development of the Global Positioning System, the network of satellites that pinpoint locations on Earth within a range of feet, died on Oct. 11 at his home in Coronado, Calif. He was 91.

Dr. Getting conceived the satellite technology in the 1960’s while president of Aerospace Corporation, a military research and development company based in El Segundo, Calif.
The system now is a constellation of 24 satellites that uses transmitters and atomic clocks to calculate locations around the world. First known as Navstar G.P.S., it was intended to control military aircraft and missiles during the cold war.

Dr. Bradford Parkinson, an Air Force colonel, ultimately led the engineers who designed the system and put it into operation in the 1970’s. Dr. Getting, who was widely respected for his work on radar, is often credited with using his prominence to fight off critics who sought to stall the project. The Defense Department launched the first experimental G.P.S. satellites in 1978. Ten years later, the current G.P.S. satellites went into orbit and were declared fully functional in the early 1990’s. They were used in the first Persian Gulf war to steer “smart bombs” to their targets.

Gradually, the technology became a household name with a broad range of commercial and everyday applications. It helps pilots navigate without crashing into other aircraft, guides drivers to their destinations and helps commercial fishermen find the spots where they can net the biggest catches. Hand-held G.P.S. receivers are increasingly popular among hikers, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts.

In February, the National Academy of Engineering awarded its Charles Stark Draper Prize to Dr. Getting and Dr. Parkinson for their work on the satellite technology. Born in New York City, Ivan Getting earned his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. from Oxford. He returned to M.I.T. in the 1940’s to head its well-known radiation laboratory, where he worked on the Army’s antiaircraft radar systems that helped save England from German “flying bombs” during World War II. He taught electrical engineering at M.I.T. and later oversaw the development of the Sparrow III and Hawk missile systems at the Raytheon Company, a defense contractor. In 1960, Dr. Getting became founding president of Aerospace. He held the position until he retired, in 1977. In that time, he worked with the Mercury and Gemini missions for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

According to his obituary in The Los Angeles Times, he is survived by his wife, Helen; two sons, Ivan, of Boulder, Colo., and Peter, of Iowa City, Iowa; a daughter, Nancy G. Secker of Green Bay, Wis.; and several grandchildren.