"This is real-world stuff," said Brett Williamson, a 22-year-old geography major. "It's not like stuff that's already out there that we GPS every day like the fire hydrants."
Tony Collett, another geography major, put on his orange vest yesterday and checked his equipment to make sure it was all in working order. He was about to head into the field for his fourth day of work. He was supposed to be in class but his professors gave him a pass, understanding the gravity of what he intended to do instead.
"It's been hectic," he said. "Everyone's got a piece in their back yard and we have to GPS everything from things the size of a paper clip to the size of this desk. A lot of stuff doesn't look like it belongs here. The makeup of the metal is visibly different than anything you'll see out there, especially in this town."
Seventeen years ago, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded over the Atlantic Ocean, GPS was not completely in place. In fact, the slowdown of the space program - the shuttle explosion was followed by the explosion of a Delta rocket carrying a weather satellite - in the months afterward delayed the implementation of GPS system. With no shuttles flying, and the most reliable rocket suddenly being checked for defects, new satellite launches were postponed.
Since then, Collett said, "society and science have advanced to the point where it can start leveraging the knowledge of where things are on the Earth."