The commercial global positioning system (GPS) is 25 years old this week. It was just a quarter of a century ago that President Ronald Reagan opened up military technology for commercial use, resulting in the first GPS devices shipping to retailers on 25 May 1989.

The first Magellan GPS NAV 1000s were 8,75 x 3,5 x 2,25-inch devices, weighing in at 1,5 pounds. With a multi-line LCD display, the device ran off six AA batteries and sold for a whopping $3 000.00.

According to GPS vendor Mio, the system was originally designed for military and intelligence applications at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s.

The actual global positioning system (GPS) is a network of satellites that orbit the earth at fixed points above the planet and beam down signals to anyone on earth with a GPS receiver. These signals carry a time code and geographical data point that allows the user to pinpoint their exact position, speed and time anywhere on the planet.

In 1960, there were five satellites orbiting the earth, allowing ships to fix their position on the seas once every hour. In 1967, newer satellites allowed greater accuracy and, between 1978 and 1985, the technology developed quickly for military purposed with additional satellites being launched.

In 1983, a Korean passenger jet was shot down by the USSR, prompting the Reagan administration to open up GOS for civilian applications – mainly to allow ships and aircraft to avoid straying into foreign territory.

However, it wasn’t until 1989 that the first Block II satellites were launched and commercial GPS became a reality; and it was 1995 before the full system of 24 Navstar satellites was declared fully operational.