About Brad Parkinson
Parkinson was a career Air Force Officer who also received a masters in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from MIT and had significant scientific and research experience. He became program manager of what would become the Global Positioning System in November 1972, as an Air Force Colonel. The origins of the program went back to the 1958 realization that Sputnik was emitting a Doppler signal that could be used for ground location. All three services had come up with variations on the technology by the time Parkinson arrived—Transit, Roger Easton’s work at the Naval Research Laboratory, and the Air Force’s 621B program. Parkinson synthesized the technology of the three prior proposals (Transit’s orbit determination system, Roger Easton’s atomic clock technology, and 621B’s digital signal structure and concept of operation), made some improvements, and got all three services behind him for a joint GPS proposal. The program was accepted in 1973 and in operation by 1978. It involved 24 satellites in high-altitude, 12-hour orbits; the costs went down significantly, since the digital signal structure allowed GPS to take advantage of the digital electronics price revolution. The military built in inferior capability for civilian users, but differential correction systems researched by civilians made up for that inhibition soon enough. After 1978 Parkinson retired from the Air Force and went into private industry (Rockwell, Intermetrics), before ending up at Stanford as a professor in charge of NASA’s Gravity Probe B project. He believe that GPS will continue to expand its usage, allowing for automatic planes, cars, tractors, etc.
About the Interview
BRAD PARKINSON: An Interview Conducted by Michael Geselowitz, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, 2 November 1999
Interview #379 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Brad Parkinson, an oral history conducted in 1999 by Michael Geselowitz, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA
Interview: Brad Parkinson
Interviewer: Michael Geselowitz
Date: 2 November 1999
Place: Georgetown Suites Hotel