Ohio native, Larry Gordley, originally wanted to go to the Air Force Academy, but color blindness and severe astigmatism squelched his dream. He was captain of his high school football, track and wrestling team.
“I decided I had better things to do with my head than slam it into the thighs of hefty running backs,” he says.
Gordley earned his Bachelor degree and his Master of Science degree in physics from Georgia Institute of Technology, where he spent time on an ROTC scholarship.
Gordley began his career as a contract programmer, servicing NASA/Langley Research Center. And in 1986, he founded GATS.
GATS’ first contract was with Lockheed Martin Corporation.
“I’d written code for a sensor with Langley that was exactly what they needed for their sensor,” he says. “GATS tailored coding to Lockheed’s specific sensor.”
Most of Gordley’s work with Langley was through Dr. Jim Russell, currently a professor at Hampton University. Russell was principal investigator on several satellite projects, including four major programs (LIMS, HALOE, SABER and AIM) that went on satellites. Two of these are still in orbit.
“After my work on the first one, Jim named me lead analyst for interpreting signals from these sensors for all his programs,” Gordley says.
“I’ve worked with Larry and GATS for more than 35 years in my capacity as principal investigator on four satellite missions,” Russell says. “GATS has been an integral part of my teams on all of these missions, and the company has made exceptional contributions to the highly successful instrument hardware, atmospheric data retrieval software and the science outcomes.”
GATS operates the SOFIE sensor Gordley designed on the AIM mission (operating since 2001) and the SABER sensor (operating since 2007 on the TIME mission). The HALOE instrument on the UARS satellite studied the ozone hole.
“Our experience with those sensors gave us a lot of insight into infrared sensors for measuring emissions from the upper atmosphere from gases, etc.,” Gordley says. “I designed one of the sensors that’s on the AIM mission (SOFIE), and we started to patent them.”
Around 2000, GATS started coming up with a few ideas, and Dr. Russell passed on the company name to David Fritts in 2010, then a scientist in Boulder and now vice-president of Atmospheric Research, Colorado Division.
“David is arguably the top upper atmospheric dynamics theoretician in the country,” Gordley says. “He was working with another nonprofit group and took half a dozen scientists to join us because they needed to further their research observations of upper atmospheric dynamics.”
There was nothing available that could do that, so GATS invented a technique called Doppler Scanning with Gas Filters. GATS is now building one for demonstration, funded by and in collaboration with NASA Goddard. Some NASA scientists at Ames Research Center want to send one to Mars.
“It turns out it can measure the winds in the Martian atmosphere as well,” Gordley says. “This program is generating excitement.”
Dr. John Fisher, president of Brandywine Photonics and co-founder of MetNet, says, “Mr. Gordley’s inventions regarding methods for mapping methane as a greenhouse gas and measuring high altitude winds and temperature have been acknowledged by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as technologies worth funding, bringing in local high-tech jobs.”
GATS has another sensor, DAGR (Digital Array Gas Radiometer), it believes will break the barriers which typically arise when attempting to measure methane and other gases near the planet’s surface.
“That’s one of the most exciting ones, a really clever technique,” Gordley says. “It uses the natural topography of the surface to modulate the signal.”
GATS has now moved from simply supporting NASA projects to inventing its own and is promoting and marketing them.
“It’s actually more fun, and there are more exciting things going on now than we’ve ever had,” Gordley says. “But what really makes this place fun and successful is our core team of Tom Marshall, CTO; Della Boscana, CAO; Greg Paxton, CIO; and Tammy Williams, senior administrative assistant, who have graced this company for anywhere from 18 to 33 years each, and often leave me in the dust when it comes to finding a way and getting it done.”
“Larry Gordley is a key figure in atmospheric sciences,” says Dr. Scott Bailey, a professor at Virginia Tech. “He led the algorithm development and data processing systems for some of the important missions NASA has flown to study the Earth. Larry is one of the smartest and most creative people in the field. His intuitive understanding about how to observe and study the atmosphere is quite rare.”
About a quarter of the year, Gordley and wife, Sara Stauffer, spend time in the foothills of the Appalachians in Georgia with their beloved Staffordshire terrier mix pup, DAGR. The area reminds him of his childhood upbringing in the Ohio foothills.
“Going there, relaxation just sweeps over your body the moment you walk in the house,” he says. The only downside is the distance from his son Drew, owner of the electrical contracting company Energy Electric, and his daughter Kim Croft, an emergency room nurse at Sentara of Williamsburg for nearly 30 years and their families.
“If you wonder where the latest commercial space innovations are happening, you don’t need to go to the Mohave Desert or Cape Canaveral; it’s right here in Hampton Roads,” Fisher says of Gordley and GATS’ contributions.
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