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Today you can easily find your way to, say, the nearest Starbucks in a strange city, thanks to a cascade of events that began a little more than 30 years ago, when a Soviet Sukhoi interceptor flying high over the Sea of Japan fired off two heat-seeking missiles. The long-term result: You now have no trouble locating a cappuccino. Of course, you're not finding that coffee by the heat it gives off. You are most likely guided to it in missile-like fashion by the GPS receiver in your smartphone or on your dashboard. That ubiquitous piece of consumer technology works-indeed exists-only because the U.S. Department of Defense allowed civilian use of its satellite-based positioning system. That wasn't the original plan. The Global Positioning System was supposed to be exclusively for soldiers, sailors, and airmen, until President Ronald Reagan ordered a sudden change in policy in response to the deaths of 269 people aboard a Korean airliner that veered into Soviet territory on 1 September 1983. Believing it to be a military aircraft on a spying mission, Soviet air defense forces shot it down.

Published in:

Spectrum, IEEE  (Volume:50 ,  Issue: 12 )

Date of Publication:

December 2013

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