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The Politics of Global Coverage: The Navy, NASA, and GPS, 1960–2010

The Politics of Global Coverage: The Navy, NASA, and GPS, 1960–2010

Chapter:
(p.253) Chapter Six The Politics of Global Coverage: The Navy, NASA, and GPS, 1960–2010
Source:
After the Map
Author(s):
William Rankin
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226339535.003.0006

The sponsorship of the Global Positioning System by the US Department of Defense in the early 1970s seems perfectly obvious – why wouldn’t the US military want an amazingly precise global navigation system? But at the time, GPS was opposed by nearly every group that was supposed to benefit from it, both military and civilian. It also departed sharply from the precedents of the US Navy’s global radionavigation systems and the proposals for civilian satellite navigation from NASA. This chapter frames the radicality of GPS as largely an administrative problem of enforcing coordination within the US military, rather than as a self-evident technological improvement. It then explores the geographic and experiential changes brought by GPS in the decades since it first came online in the early 1990s. It was often described as an entirely new kind of infrastructure, and its pointillist logic has had profound implications for everything from surveying and war to national territory and everyday life. The chapter ends by confronting common reactions to GPS, arguing that it should not be seen in moral terms as either good or bad – or even as neutral. Instead, its impact is largely about facilitating new forms of geographic intervention.

Keywords:   radionavigation, Global Positioning System, GPS, Department of Defense, US Navy, NASA, infrastructure, territory, technological neutrality

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