I recently watched a documentary on the development history of GPS under the U.S. military. One interesting tidbit was that the astronomical costs of realizing a functioning global position system were justified only because it was deemed critical for military operations during the Cold War. Fast forward a few decades, and it’s safe to say that this government expenditure has had fairly useful civilian applications. Not only has an entire industry developed around GPS hardware and software development, but it has made navigation safer (e.g., civilian aviation), not to mention just plain more convenient (e.g., getting directions to that new restaurant).
Given the fact that GPS was an incredibly expensive project at the outset, would private industry have at some point developed its own system had the military not funded the R&D and satellite launch costs during the Cold War? As far as I know, the military still maintains the daily running of the satellites that comprise the GPS currently in use by most civilians.