National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Nathan McKay

University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI
B.S. Aerospace Engineering, May 2012

NASA Academy Research Project:
Developing a Photolithography
Process for Si3Ni4 Etching

Principal Investigator:
Dr. Sheila Bailey

Grand Rapids, MI


Personal Statement

I wanted to be part of the NASA Glenn Academy because I felt the experience I would gain as a research assistant will be invaluable as I progress my way through college and eventually seek a career in the aerospace industry. As part of this program I am approaching and solving real world aerospace engineering problems. This problem solving practice will improve my work habits and teach me what skills I need to improve on as I prepare myself for a career.

I want to work at NASA due to my overwhelming interest in space exploration. One of my life goals is to gain a career that allows me to contribute to the human exploration of space. I believe that exploring space is extremely important. Without first exploring, we humans will never be able to understand our place in this ever expanding universe. Is there other live out there? Can we colonize another world? What important things can we learn of our own planet? The need to study space and provide a scientific answer to this question motivates me to achieve a career that allows me to contribute. I would like to do my part as an engineer to help in the numerous efforts of NASA. I can think of nothing more rewarding then having one of my ideas develop into a critical aspect of real spacecraft.

My past research experience in the Sih optics lab at the University of Michigan was very beneficial. This experience exposed me to the world of research and allowed me to take on responsibility early in my college career. I became more confident in making decisions and more comfortable asking for help. This research experience taught me how to use a plethora of lab equipment and how to go about designing precision parts. Currently I am involved with a student run engineering group at the University of Michigan called the Student Space Systems Fabrication Laboratory (S3FL). I am working on the XSAS team, designing an apparatus test the eXtendable Solar Array System (XSAS) in a microgravity environment as part of NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. XSAS is a solar array system intended to be used by cube satellites to increase their available power. Working on XSAS gives me engineering experience designing, performing trade studies, and building components. I hope to gain a leadership role next year and continue my work on the XSAS team. I also plan to pursue a Masters Degree in Space Engineering at the University of Michigan.


During my freshmen year I took an introductory engineering course in space systems design intended to expose students to engineering principles and technical communication. For the final design project we were tasked with designing and building a remote control blimp capable of performing surveillance mission (as if it were an earth-based prototype for a Martian mission). While the team atmosphere was very casual, I did assume a leadership role within the group. I would initiate the delegating of work, set up meeting times, reserve lab space and equipment for our work, and do my best to resolve disputes about the design. I feel that, in addition to the professionalism of my peers, my initiative to step up as a leader and make decisions helped in the timely completion and mission success of our blimp.