Justin Lucas; a National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) project manager at Stennis Space Center near the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is helping lay the framework for reaching America’s new deep space goals. His five-year path with Stennis has proven a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he enthusiastically embraces his part in transforming the Moon to Mars vision into reality.
Lucas remembers being a child and how his imagination ran wild when he first saw a Moon rock on a visit to the Stennis visitor center. “All I could think about was that I wanted to know what it felt like,” he said. “Was it smooth? Heavy? Does it feel like a rock on Earth? How far could I throw it on the Moon?”
The curiosity he exhibited growing up in Gulfport, Mississippi, only amplified with age. Little did he know then, he would oversee projects with NASA, dedicating his career to engine testing, space flight, and exploration. In that regard, he is helping make a sustainable human presence on the Moon real, knowing there has not been a human on the lunar surface since 1972.
Still living in his hometown, Lucas has been supporting Artemis missions to take the next man, first woman, and first person of color to the surface of the Moon. As a Stennis project manager, his projects and responsibilities include designing, constructing, and supporting test facility systems and infrastructure within the test complex. “Working at Stennis is challenging, rewarding, and by far the most fascinating career opportunity,” Lucas said.
Lucas did not start working for NASA immediately after graduating from Mississippi State University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Instead, he started with an aluminum rolling mill manufacturer and recycling center, where he worked for two years, then he worked an additional four years in PET resins manufacturing. “I saw an opportunity within the space program to apply my knowledge and experience at Stennis and felt like I was ready for new challenges and responsibilities,” Lucas said. “Since then, I have never looked back.”
The opportunities Lucas encounters at Stennis have had a profound impact on his career. “Working with a wide variety of teams on several projects has offered me an opportunity to grow as an individual and a professional,” Lucas explained. “Through the diversity and talent of the project teams, I’m able to capture different viewpoints and perspectives. I look forward to supporting Stennis and its partners in the efforts to go back to the Moon and beyond.”
With NASA, Lucas also earned his Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification. A Certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt is an individual who is well versed in the elements of Lean Six Sigma methodology and problem solving, mainly emphasizing: define, measure, analyze, improve and control. He also earned the title of contracting officer representative (COR). COR certification is required to manage NASA direct contracts, including design and construction
Lucas has supported Stennis’s efforts as a project manager on preparing the site facilities and B-2 Test Stand for the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage test series. His involvement allowed him to witness the hot fire of the SLS core stage’s four powerful RS-25 engines during the Green Run series of tests of the stage and its integrated systems. Those same engines soon will power the rocket on its maiden Artemis I voyage. Lucas said, “I am proud to see the impacts of my projects as they contributed to Green Run testing.”
Lucas reflected on Green Run, saying, “Considering there were so many moving parts and pieces supporting Green Run, coordination and execution of construction and maintenance activities for critical test systems around the testing activities presented many challenges.” He helped manage the test’s essential systems, including test stand air compressors, the high-pressure air dryer, the air compressor cooling tower control system, High Pressure Gas Facility meters, and the high-pressure gas Phase II activities.
Lucas can see a future at Stennis. “I am most excited to see new developments and partnerships at Stennis and within NASA to get us back to the Moon, build the Gateway (lunar orbiting outpost), and make the journey to Mars,” he explained. “I look forward to being part of an organization that drives innovation and inspiration to make that vision a reality. At Stennis, I have an opportunity to witness history in the making.”