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Who Wants to Go to the Moon? Alum Nate Lee ’15 is Building the Vehicle to Make it Happen

When kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up, a popular answer since the late 1950s is astronaut. For alumnus Nate Lee ’15, he has been proclaiming his dream of building the space vehicle, rather than being in it, from the time he had an understanding of what an aerospace engineer is. Growing up in the Puget Sound, with its abundance of aviation, helped drive him to this decision at a young age, allowing him to position himself during his time at Seattle Academy in ways that would help best achieve this lifelong dream. 

Nate has fond memories of his time at SAAS, where he attended from 6th to 12th grade, and he remembers his time on the robotics team most vividly. It showed him what competition was like and taught him transferable skills like Computer Aided Design, presentation skills, how to effectively convey his ideas, and the true value of critical thinking. After SAAS, he attended University of Colorado Boulder where he majored in Aerospace Engineering, minored in Engineering Management, and achieved a certificate in Engineering Leadership—all while working as an outdoor program guide where he led groups in backpacking, snowshoeing, and so forth. Once he graduated in 2020, amidst a global pandemic, he was on to his first job out of college with Lockheed Martin. 

After a little movement throughout the company, Nate settled in nicely as a Systems Engineer where he currently works on testing and verification of the NASA Orion Spacecraft. Once successfully built, the Orion Spacecraft will be part of the Artemis Moon Mission, which has the goal of landing the first woman and next man on the moon. The Orion itself is the capsule that will take astronauts from Earth to Lunar orbit where they will meet the Lunar Lander, the spacecraft that will physically deliver the astronauts to the moon.

Artemis 1 Moon Mission will launch in late 2021 and has the goal of proving that the Orion can withstand the intense radiation of the space around the moon. It will also verify that the astronauts will be safe during the mission. Once this goal is achieved, Artemis 2 Moon Mission will launch astronauts to orbit the moon and Artemis 3 Moon Mission will launch astronauts to fully land on the moon. This will be the first time the United States has arrived on the moon since the ’70s!

Where does Nate come into this mission? The first part of his role is working on testing and verification in the lab of the Orion, which is essentially a full-sized copy of the spacecraft, just immobile and less airtight. This is where tests on software updates and hardware changes are conducted throughout the trial stage before being implemented on the Orion. The second aspect of his job involves Ground Data Systems, where he is responsible for the voice, video, and data coming from the ground systems that support the Orion. For example, Nate assists with telemetry displays which relay streaming data from Earth to the vehicle while it is in space. 

Having graduated only a year ago, Nate has truly kicked his career off with some high standards. So where does he want to go next? His dream job would be to help humans land on Mars, and he is surely on the right track to achieve that goal. He may, perhaps, even want to go to the moon himself one day, once it is as safe as flying on an airplane. Nate says, “Twelve-year-old me would be extremely happy to know where I ended up. I sometimes have to pinch myself to remind me to live in the moment and truly enjoy what I get to do because it’s easy to get caught up with the work details, but then I see a live feed of NASA stacking the rocket that will take Orion to the moon and I geek out again about what I’m doing. I try to make sure I remind myself how lucky I am to be working my dream job so early in my life.”

With a future already so bright, we can’t wait to see what you will continue to do, Nate!

Interested in space? Check out these fun facts about space that Nate provided: 

  • There is no sound in space.
  • The sunset on Mars is blue.
  • Footprints on the moon will stay for millions of years.
  • The only unrealistic part of “The Martian” movie is that the atmosphere on Mars isn’t thick enough to make sufficient wind to tip over a spaceship.
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