By Katie Malatino
In the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute community, it was big news when it was announced that Reid Wiseman ’97 would command the Artemis II lunar flyby in 2024. However, it may have been Paul McKee who was most excited.
McKee, an Averill Park High School graduate who will receive his doctoral degree in aeronautical engineering from Rensselaer in May, was among about 100 other engineers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center when the Artemis II crew was announced.
“I did my best to be quiet and respectful during the ceremony, but an audible ‘yes!’ escaped my mouth when I heard that Reid Wiseman – an RPI alum – was chosen as mission commander,” said McKee. “I’m beaming with pride!”
While Weisman prepares to go to space, McKee is supporting his mission and other NASA projects from the ground.
“Right now, my time is split between three major projects,” said McKee. “I’m analyzing navigation data from the recent Artemis 1 flight and ensuring that everything worked as well as we hoped, or determining what to do differently if we find a problem. I’m helping design new lunar surface navigation techniques for future missions (Artemis III and beyond). I’m also assisting with navigation hardware integration and testing for the VIPER rover, which we’re hoping to land near the lunar south pole by the end of 2024.”
McKee’s education at Rensselaer prepared him for his role at NASA. He graduated with his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 2017, followed by a master’s in the same in 2018, and this year he receives his Ph.D. However, McKee started his college career at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC).
“I transferred from HVCC with two years of general engineering education already done,” said McKee. “At first, it was a bit of a culture shock. I felt intimidated and I wondered if I’d ever be a ‘real engineer.’ The cure for that was hard work, dedication, and some faith that things would work out if I put in the effort. After I got word that I’d been accepted for my first NASA internship in the summer of 2017, my insecurities vanished.”
McKee stayed at Rensselaer for his graduate degrees because of the outstanding faculty and opportunities offered. One of his favorite memories was a feeling of great satisfaction after pulling an all-nighter to finish a report for his space vehicle design class. One of the members of his team for the project works with him now at NASA!
However, the experience he remembers most fondly is being a teaching assistant.
“It was very rewarding,” said McKee. “I was hoping to leave RPI with a Ph.D. and a job lined up at NASA, and I did, but I also left with a love for education and mentoring which I expect will follow me for my whole career. Sometimes my former students still reach out and tell me how they’re doing or ask for career or life advice, and that always makes my day.”