From the fourth-floor balcony of a building deep in Cape Canaveral’s Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex we waited with expectant faith the launch of GPSIIF-9. The satellite stood on the launch pad two miles straight in front of us. Our position was the closest safe viewing point, underscored by area-wide announcements for anyone near the launch pad to go immediately to designated shelters. The Mission Overview gave the stats of the satellite:
Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) is a constellation of satellites that provides navigation data to military and civilian user worldwide. . . GPS utilizes 24 satellites with a minimum of four satellites per plane, positioned approximately 11,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. The satellites continuously transmit digital radio signals pertaining to the exact time (using atomic clocks) and exact location of the satellites. The GPS III series have a design life of 12 years. With the proper equipment, users can receive these signals to calculate time, location, and velocity.
When the countdown from the command center came to ten seconds, we counted aloud: – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – liftoff! Then it happened. The initial blast was fiery, loud and bright with flames. We cheered. As if in response, the satellite began to rise and was momentarily hidden in a low cloud, created by its flames while a giant gantry held it in place until it reached zero gravity.
The satellite emerged from the cloud and soared into a clear blue sky toward heaven — the most breathtaking sight of the day! Observing and hearing so much power was exhilarating — spectacular! Some with younger eyes or those with telephoto lenses on their cameras saw the two solid rocket boosters fall away as the satellite veered to the left over the Atlantic Ocean and out of sight.
What an accomplishment of man, including my husband who led the team at Texas Instruments that built the first commercial GPS receiver, the TI4100, in 1981. He never watched a live satellite launch until now. Because of him I knew that the satellite signals are so accurate that time can be measured to within a few nanoseconds (one thousand of a microsecond), velocity within a fraction of a mile per hour, and location to within a few feet. Now 30 satellites power the navigation of airplanes, drones, cell phones, military tanks and ships. The GPS can automatically guide the path of a farm tractor within a couple of inches and pinpoint where we are as precisely as a freckle on my arm!
Soul-soaring toward the Creator of Time
I imagined being propelled into space like a satellite toward heaven and my soul soared. I thought about the creator of time, velocity and location so that the GPS can measure them for us.
When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and stars that you set in place—
What is man that you are mindful of him,
and a son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:4-5)
Yet you have made him little less than a god,
crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him rule over the works of your hands,
put all things at his feet. (Psalm 8:6-7)
God created time so that everything doesn’t happen at once, velocity so we could move around and location so we could find the place we want to go. He gave man “the rule over his works,” the ability to create GPS to measure time, velocity and location.
When I use the GPS in my car or phone, fly in a plane or sail on a ship, I thank the engineers who developed the system that keeps me from losing my way.
I thank God for creating “a time for everything under the sun,” velocity so that “in him I live and move and have my being," and location, so I can be with him anywhere on Earth and then forever in heaven.
Lord, be my GPS and keep me on time, moving forward to the place you designed for me to dwell with you.
(© 2015 Nancy HC Ward)