The people of Artemis: Brad McCain
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — At the March 17 rollout of NASA’s Artemis 1 Space Launch System (SLS) moon rocket, Spaceflight Insider had the opportunity to speak with a number of people involved in its design, construction, assembly, and flight — The People of Artemis.
EGS is based at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and “was established to develop and operate the systems and facilities necessary to process and launch rockets and spacecraft.” EGS has approximately 3,000 workers — including both NASA employees and contractors, such as Jacobs.
McCain serves as Jacobs’ vice president and deputy general manager for the Test and Operations Support Contract, or TOSC. TOSC was awarded by NASA, to Jacobs, in 2012, to “provide overall management and implementation of ground systems capabilities, flight hardware processing and launch operations at Kennedy.”
McCain is originally from LaGrange, Georgia, but grew up in Titusville, Florida. He has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Auburn, two master’s degrees — one in space technology and another in management — from the Florida Institute of Technology, and a doctorate in business administration from Nova Southeastern University.
Following his graduation from Auburn, McCain took a job in 1985 working at Kennedy for Lockheed Martin.
After working for Lockheed, he briefly left the Space Coast to work for General Electric before returning to take a job with United Space Alliance, or USA, where he worked for 12 years.
McCain supported 108 of 135 space shuttle launches in his work for Lockheed and USA.
Following the final shuttle flight in 2011, McCain took a job with Dynetics developing a concept for processing Stratolaunch at Kennedy’s Shuttle Landing Facility.
He then went to work for Jacobs in 2013 and has been in his current position since November 2020.
We asked how EGS and Jacobs work together.
“We’re a team. I mean, we’re a part of EGS, so the NASA / Jacobs team is what’s done the work so far, as far as assembly, integration, tests,” McCain said. “We do the hands-on. I mean there are some disciplines where the NASA engineering guys are involved, hands-on, but the majority of the hands-on work, all the hands-on technician work, is done by Jacobs’ employees. The majority of the engineering support is done by Jacobs’ employees.”
We then asked about his typical workday.
“There is no typical day. Not to me. We start off . . . with status meetings at 6:00, and 6:30, in the morning. Usually, I tie into the 6:00 meeting on the way into work,” McCain said. “At 6:30, I login. It’s normally done by teams, on site here. So, it’s processing work that we get done the night before, any problems that we might have. Are we on schedule, are things slipping, where do we need support . . . ? We status every department that we have, throughout the week — program integration and safety, mission assurance — looking for problems, and looking for things that may need our support.”
And what did the last 10 days, leading up to rollout, look like?
“We’ve been pulling platform after platform this last week,” McCain said. “I’ve spent the last two and a half weeks in the [Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB)].”
“It’s been focused. I wouldn’t say hectic. It’s been energized,” he added. “We set a date for rollout, today, March 17. We had several things that we needed to do with, hardware wise, the hardware wasn’t performing as well as we hoped.”
And what were a few of those?
“Well, one of the things, or routine things that you would expect is as you close out a vehicle, we have all of the platforms that are in the VAB. So, as you pull things away from platforms, things might get, paint might get scratched,” McCain said. “Some things might get dinged, transducers, or instrumentation may get damaged. You have to go back and replace. So, a lot of it is normal, what we would call closeout things, nonconformances, that we know they’re going to happen. You’re trying to minimize them, but they do happen. And as you pull platforms, with pull-away access, you want to make sure you don’t miss something. The big thing is to try to make sure, as we do our walk-downs, and we inspect the hardware, everything that . . . we thought was going to get done, gets done.”
“A lot of it’s working back through our [Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs)], Boeing or Orion,” he added. “Seeing if they’re OK with the repair that we want to make or asking them for some engineering details on a repair that we need to make.”
“We had our general manager, on site,” McCain said. “To make these kinds of schedules, you can’t wait four hours . . . . If something happens, you’ve got to react, look at the proper people.”
And are you still working anything?
“No, actually, all our constraints are cleared and we’re ready to roll,” McCain said.
The purpose of the first rollout was to get the rocket to the launch pad for a series of tests and checks culminating in a simulated launch countdown — called a wet dress rehearsal due to the vehicle actually being filled with the “wet” liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen needed for flight.
We asked about Jacobs’ role once the rocket arrived at the pad.
“We will do the entire test. So . . . NASA’s in charge, the launch director, Charlie Blackwell Thompson, is in charge of the conduct of the test,” McCain explained. “The firing room folks, console wise, the majority of those, we have 95 people, I think, in the firing room. The majority of those are our engineers.”
“Technicians, during the wet dress rehearsal, doing the prep, to securing things, are all TOSC technicians,” he added. “They’ll do all the connects, and we’ll go through and do the electrical connections and fluid connections and do testing prior to getting it to wet dress rehearsal. Then we do the propellant tanking, and all the testing.”
After completion of the wet dress rehearsal, the rocket was scheduled to roll back to the VAB, for additional processing, prior to its second rollout for an anticipated summer 2022 launch.
We asked about Jacobs’ work once the vehicle was rolled back to the VAB.
“We have some work that was planned to be performed once we go back in, but things you might expect, some of the thermal protection stuff. Maybe after the tanking, the shrinkage of the tanks, maybe there’s some cracks you might have to go in and repair,” McCain said. “This is the first use of the launch control system, and the ground software, all those kinds of things. It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s limits that may need to be changed in our software, or the model and predictions, at KSC, from what we saw at the Green Run. Because, same tank, but different ground systems. This is the first use of our ground system to that hardware. Those kind of things is what you might expect.”
Lastly, we asked how it feels to finally get to the first rollout?
“Excited. It’s good to meet milestones. Again, I spent the majority of my career on Shuttle, and meeting milestones, and launch dates, was just an expectation,” McCain said. “We have a new workforce here. A lot of it. I mean there’s some Shuttle-generation folks here, but a lot of new people never worked on this kind of program, and the idea of meeting a milestone, and why does it matter, what’s so important, why can’t we just wait a week, we’ve been working really hard, you know, those kinds of things. It’s important to be able to plan, and meet objectives, and test objectives, and get it on time, and that’s what we’ve done today. So, everybody’s excited.”
Stay tuned to Spaceflight Insider for more on The People of Artemis.
Editor’s note: Since this interview took place, the SLS rocket has been returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building for repairs. It is now expected to roll back to Launch Pad 39B to complete the wet dress rehearsal in mid-June.
Scott earned both a Bachelor's Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS - 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.