Crowds drawn at UAF
The UA Geography Program hosted a high-tech treasure hunt during a Monday Marvels activity on the UAF campus. The geocaching event was popular with Fairbanksans of all ages, who traversed the area near the Reichardt Building and the UA Museum of the North hunting for designated sites with the help of GPS devices. The evening began with Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning Post-doctoral Fellow John Bailey explaining the history of global positioning systems, which got their start in the 1960s-1970s. “This was a navigational system created to provide targeting for weapons and keep tabs on troop movements,” he explained. GPS was still in development in 1983 when Korean Air Lines Flight 007 departed Anchorage and was shot down by Soviet interceptors over the Sea of Japan (killing all 269 passengers and crew). After that, President Reagan ordered the military to make GPS available for civilian use so navigational errors could be averted. While in the 1960s there were only five satellites, by 1994 there was a “full constellation” of satellites, Bailey said, in six different orbits, constantly circling. “It operates using basic fundamentals of geometry.” Applications for GPS include navigation, surveying, map-making, search and rescue, military tracking and guidance, vehicle and pet tracking, cell phone location, tectonic monitoring. The U.S. nuclear detonation system involves separate instruments that happen to be on each GPS satellite but the functionality is separate from the GPS. On July 12 GPS use took a fun turn at UAF when Bailey, UA Geography Program Education and Outreach Coordinator Katie Kennedy, and recent geography graduate Amy Rath coordinated the Monday Marvels activity. Groups received GPS devices (once they traded their IDs for them) and were given quick instructions before being sent to a carefully laid-out course. Canisters containing geography-related queries were discovered by the students, who answered the questions and raced to the next cache. Prizes were awarded to the first people back with the correct answers. “We tried to make it user-friendly,” Kennedy said, and from the excitement exhibited by the crowd, they succeeded.