Meet NASA’s Alan Mcdougal, Gateway Structures, Mechanisms Manager
Alan Mcdougal knew from the time he spent with the International Space Station Program that he wanted to be part of the expansion of human space exploration. Now serving as Gateway’s Structures and Mechanisms System manager for the Vehicle Systems Integration Office, Mcdougal will not only be a contributor to the future of space exploration but will soon see his work orbit the Moon.
NASA’s Gateway Program is central to Artemis’ long-term human exploration in deep space. The Gateway team is developing several modules that enable a variety of capabilities to achieve long-term mission goals. As the Gateway Structures and Mechanisms System manager, Mcdougal and his team support the development of design requirements, analysis, testing, and operational support for the primary structure of the pressurized module that the crew will live in, as well as mechanisms like hatches, docking systems, and solar arrays, across Gateway.
Learn more about Mcdougal and the work he does as a part of the Gateway Program:
What does your office do for the Gateway Program?
We ensure structural and mechanical engineering standards are met across all the partners that provide Gateway hardware. We also develop the specification for common mechanical systems like docking and hatch mechanisms. In addition to these functions of the Gateway Program Office, we also support the technical authorities to ensure safety and engineering.
What are you most excited to share about Gateway and what it will do for human exploration as part of the Artemis program?
Having spent years supporting the International Space Station Program in low-Earth orbit, I have been able to see the benefits of a sustained presence in space that allows the execution of science, as well as the development of technologies needed for the continued expansion of human space exploration. Gateway provides very similar resources in cislunar orbit (between Earth and the Moon) while acting as the backbone of our long-term return to the Moon’s surface.
How has your personal background influenced your work in the Gateway program?
My mechanical engineering degree and early career allowed me to perform a broad range of design, analysis, testing, manufacturing, and sustaining of hardware. That experience provides insight to anticipate manufacturing and operating issues that can often be addressed by good requirements and design choices made early in the program’s lifecycle.
What has been your favorite memory while working at NASA?
Some of the most exciting times happen when things go wrong. My favorite memory is related to working the torn space station solar array in 2007. Recovering from that issue required amazing teamwork across all the engineering and operations disciplines to develop recovery plans. That event was my “Apollo 13” moment with NASA recovering a damaged solar array that put the whole vehicle at risk.
Being surrounded by such a high-performing group of people, what’s a great piece of advice you’ve learned?
Don’t be intimidated! Listen proactively and engage fully. There’s a lot of great people with amazing experience. Listen and learn from them. But, understand that they were you at one point, and they likely got where they are because they asked questions, spoke up, and provided ideas.
More about Alan:
Where did you grow up?
I moved around every three to five years growing up, but I consider the Midwest home. Born in Michigan, I did a large part of my growing up in southwest Ohio.
If you could temporarily live (or visit) in another part of the world, where would that be?
There are so many great places to live and visit; it’s hard to pick one. I love the outdoors, so I’ve been eyeballing the Pacific Northwest lately, as that the part of the U.S. I haven’t spent much time. I’d love to spend a little time living overseas, though, with our partners at the European Space Agency or the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency. That would be an amazing opportunity.
How long have you been at NASA?
I have been employed with NASA since 2006 working primarily space station and Gateway. I spent the first nine years of my career in commercial aerospace.
Describe yourself in five words:
Curious, fun, engaged, and self-starter.
Name one thing we would be surprised to learn about you.
I met my wife, Steph, swing dancing. You’d be amazed how many engineers and math majors are in the swing dance crowd. We love patterns!