COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The global positioning system, better known as GPS, has become a vital part of society and the world. Everyday, people use GPS whether they know it or not and often take it for granted.
When people think of GPS, usually the first thing that comes to their mind is navigation on their cell phone. However, GPS has expanded into every day lives and helps keep the country running.
Every airplane, ship, semi-truck, and train uses the American made system to deliver supplies to the country. It's not just for transportation, ATMs, credit card purchases, traffic lights, and the New York stock exchange all use it. It is also critical to our military which it was originally created for.
Without it, our country and the way people live would change dramatically.
The system is made out of several satellites about 12,500 miles away and reaches four billion people around the globe. It takes three satellites to find someone's position and only 24 are needed to cover every inch of the Earth.
Those who make sure the system is up and running at all times work in Colorado Springs at Schriever Air Force Base. Inside the 50th Space Wing, out of sight from the public eye and rarely by the media, is a small but secure room where the 2nd Space Operations Squadron watch over these crucial satellites.
We got an exclusive look inside and talked to the small group of well trained airmen and women who control and command these satellites.
In the room there are only ten people sitting behind computers. Each member works for eight hours, but there is always someone there watching the system 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The commander of the squadron Lt. Colonel Peter Norsky, says the Air Force has 35 satellites orbiting, "It's the largest satellite system in the department of defense."
The first GPS satellite was launched nearly four decades ago in 1978. Norsky says over time, "we have been the gold standard for positioning navigation and timing around the world."
The squadron runs several tests a day on each of the satellites. If one were to go down, there are 11 back-ups. Brandon Myers is one of the space systems operators, "There are some pretty high stress scenarios," Myers says. He is one of the youngest on the team. In fact, Myers and most others are younger than the satellites they command. Their job isn't what most people their age do. Myers says, "When someone says four billion and you actually think about how you are helping out the world while sending these commands through a computer is mind blowing."
Mission commander Jeremy Crossman says without these vital satellites, it would be chaos.
Norsky says the team is well equipped to handle any situation, "We are able to develop tactics and procedures to be able to operate this system through any types of issues to be able to provide that capability."
Behind the scenes there are also hundreds of engineers ready if a satellite went down or wasn't working properly.
The future for these airmen and the 2nd space operations is to launch more advanced satellites because the system is always under threat. Norsky says, "When we have those additional satellites on orbit and the next generation of ground software we look forward to having the capability of increased anti-jamming and anti-spoofing capabilities within the GPS architecture."