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CloudSat Project Manager Tom Livermore
09.02.05
 
Students of Shotokan Karate learn to penetrate through an opponent. JPL's Tom Livermore, a first-degree black belt, uses this same technique in the art of managing the CloudSat mission. Slated for a fall launch, CloudSat will study the role that clouds play in regulating Earth's weather and climate, and like any new mission, CloudSat has had to punch through its share of obstacles to reach orbit.

Tom Livermore doing karateImage right: Livermore trains at the Caltech Shotokan Karate of America Dojo, the oldest university dojo in the United States, started in 1955 by Tsutomu Ohshima. Image courtesy: Tom Livermore
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The most significant challenge turned out to be the high-voltage power supply for the Cloud Profiling Radar. A first-of-its-kind instrument, the radar will allow CloudSat to determine, from space, how much rain and/or snow is inside a cloud. To do this, the radar runs at a higher voltage on higher power, which has never been done before in space.

Ranked as a Shodan, the reference for a first-degree black belt, Livermore applies what he learns in the dojo, a training area for martial arts, and applies it in real-world situations. "I bring a Shodan mentality to the team and leadership approach that I have evolved in the dojo," Livermore says. He thrives on challenges, both at work and in his personal life. In addition to being a first-degree black belt, he is a pilot rated in Instrument Flight Rules and is an experienced whitewater open canoeist, the first person to paddle an open canoe down rough waters, in select areas.

With more than 20 years of experience as a project manager, his professional efforts have ranged from such challenges as developing the shoplifting monitors used by department stores to working on the world's largest radio and optical telescopes. Livermore joined the JPL/Caltech community in 1985, after positions with Texas Instruments, Raytheon, Sperry and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. His first assignment with JPL/Caltech was with the W.M. Keck Telescope. He went on to work on a variety of space development projects, including the Stratospheric Wind Infrared Limb Sounder, the Cassini Imaging Science Subsystem, the Space Interferometry Mission, the Integrated Multispectral Atmospheric Sounder and the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer, before becoming CloudSat project manager.

Tom Livermore whitewater open canoeingImage left: Livermore whitewater open canoeing in the Arroyo Seco riverbed, Calif. Image courtesy: Tom Livermore
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Born in Jacksonville, Fla., but raised in Silver City, New Mexico, he entered the University of New Mexico in 1962 set with a full scholarship in the Navy Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, money for college and his girlfriend from high school. Originally planning on becoming a Navy officer, he lost interest in his college classes and the military, often opting to play pool and chess instead of going to class. "I was under the impression that I could pass my classes without studying or going to class, like I did in high school." He was wrong, and a year later he flunked out and lost the scholarship.

Livermore called the experience an eye opener. Fortunately, he didn't lose his high school sweetheart Elaine, and at the age of 20, they married. "That was a changing point in my life," he said. "Getting married started me down the right path."

With a renewed sense of responsibility, Livermore lobbied to get back into college and was accepted. The work paid off as he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of New Mexico . In 1975, he completed his master's degree in electrical engineering, carrying a 4.0 grade point average, from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

As a manager, Livermore is a firm believer in learning from mistakes. "You have to allow people to go out and do things," he says. "You have to encourage people and allow them to take on responsibilities and tasks to the largest degree that they can. If they make mistakes you have to then deal with it and it may cause you a problem, but that's the only way people learn."

"Management is not an exact science," he says. "You can't model this on a computer. I'm fortunate that I have a great team to work with. My greatest goal is that the team has benefited from the relationship with me. People are the most important item. It's not about hardware, it's about people." It's a philosophy that has helped the CloudSat team punch through the obstacles every team encounters while in the dojo of space.

 
 
Written by Derek Blackway