from the standing-on-the-shoulders dept.
Sarah Laskow writes at The Atlantic about the KAL 007 incident where the Soviet Union shot down a passenger plane on September 1, 1983, killing all 269 passengers including a US Congressman en route from New York City to Seoul via Anchorage. At first, the Soviet Union wouldn't even admit its military had shot the plane down, but the Reagan administration immediately started pushing to establish what had happened and stymie the operations of the Soviet Aeroflot airline. It is widely believed that Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was already well off course when the crew routinely radioed that it was over its proper ''way point,'' or checkpoint, at a 90-degree angle to Shemya Island in the West Aleutian chain. Ultimately, the Boeing 747 jumbo jet cut across the lower tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula and the southern tip of Sakhalin Island, where it was shot down by a Soviet fighter.
President Reagan made a choice that, while reported at the time, was not the biggest news to come out of this event: Reagan decided to speed up the timeline for civilian use of GPS. The US had already launched almost a dozen satellites into orbit that could help locate its military craft, on land, in the air, or on the sea. But the use of the system was restricted. Now, Reagan said, as soon as the next iteration of the GPS system was working, it would be available for free. It took more than $10 billion and over 10 years for the second version of the U.S.'s GPS system to come fully online. But in 1995, as promised, it was available to private companies for consumer applications. It didn't take long, though, for commercial providers of GPS services to start complaining about the system's "selective availability" which reserved access to the best, most precise signals for the U.S. military. In 2000, not that long before he left office, President Clinton got rid of selective availability and freed the world from ever depending on paper maps or confusing directions from relatives again. "Originally developed by the Department of Defense as a military system, GPS has become a global utility," said Clinton. "It benefits users around the world in many different applications, including air, road, marine, and rail navigation, telecommunications, emergency response, oil exploration, mining, and many more. "