Twenty-five years ago, in 1995, the U.S. Air Force reached a milestone: Its satellite Global Positioning System became fully operational. Today, GPS directs our world, from supertankers to pizza deliveries. But before the creation of this modern navigational marvel, humans looked to the heavens to find their way.
For centuries, using a sextant, a sailor could mark a ship’s location by making a few calculations to determine a star’s position relative to the horizon. Now a high-tech version of this maritime tradition is finding its way back into practice.
GPS is indispensable these days—but it’s still incredibly fragile. It can be spoofed with a fake satellite signal, hacked by an adversary, or simply destroyed. Spoofing, hacking, or destroying the stars? Not happening.
GPS may have revolutionized the way we navigate, but for years celestial navigation has been undergoing a quiet revolution of its own.
Don’t Call It a Comeback
The U.S. Navy became less reliant on the traditional sextant back in WWII with the advent of radio navigation tools, but the heavens have remained an important map for sailors and especially pilots. WWII bombers like the B-17 Flying Fortress had an ‘astrodome,’ a transparent hemisphere that allowed the navigator to take star sightings.