Tom Gitlin: Connecting Missions to the Network
By Erin Roberts
August 17, 2022
As a child, Tom Gitlin was captivated by how things worked and how they were built. "I was always fascinated with computers and electronics - how they worked and fixing things that didn't work," said Gitlin.
This interest grew and soon led Gitlin into studying engineering. In 1982, he received his Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park, and then went on to receive his master's in 1988 in computing systems.
After working in private industry for a few years, Gitlin joined NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in 1988. Now, Gitlin serves as the Mission Engagement Lead for the Commercialization, Innovation, and Synergies (CIS) office within the Exploration and Space Communications (ESC) projects division. In this position, one of his roles is to facilitate the mission onboarding process, helping missions secure Near Space Network services. The Near Space Network provides missions in the near-space region, out to two million kilometers away, with communications and navigation services. Gitlin connects the network to potential users, including NASA, other agency, and international missions.
During his career at NASA, Gitlin held several management and integration roles within projects, including the Space Network Ground Segment Sustainment project and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) project at the White Sands Complex.
One project that stands out for Gitlin was the Guam Remote Ground Terminal project. This was a quick response effort to develop and deploy a new ground station in Guam. It was a much larger job than just building the terminal. The project required an extensive amount of planning, organizing, and traveling.
"This project was critical to closing what we called 'the zone of exclusion,' which was the area over the Indian Ocean unsupported by the first few TDRS satellites. Closing this gap allowed missions using TDRS to communicate data to Earth anywhere in their orbits," said Gitlin. "The addition of Guam made TDRS a near-constant communications and navigation services provider."
During his time on the Guam project, he was mentored by Denver Herr, who had kicked off the Guam effort. "He was just a very matter of fact, straightforward guy; he told it like it was and I always respected that."
Denver taught Gitlin to always be prepared and make learning meaningful. "He would say things like ‘Work has its peaks and valleys when you're not busy - try to read and learn during that time. Make yourself busy in a meaningful way," said Gitlin.
NASA and ESC take learning and personal development seriously and encourage every employee to discover the resources available.
"NASA is really good at training, they have such a wealth of courses including managing people, resolving conflict, as well as the technical content," said Gitlin. One class that stood out to Gitlin was project management training that drove home the ideas of planning, organization, and project control tools.
Outside of work, Tom enjoys working on cars, home improvement, volunteering, programming, and electronics. He is looking forward to spending more time on these activities upon his retirement this year after more than 30 years at NASA.