Alumni Spotlight: Nathan Strange ’93

Nathan Strange grew up exploring the wooded hills and hollows of Southern Indiana. His childhood love of exploration grew into an interest in spaceflight and a dream of someday working on robotic probes exploring the Solar System. Although his home school in the small town of Shoals had very limited math and science classes to prepare him for this career path, Nathan was fortunate to have access to these classes as a member of the Indiana Academy’s second class. The Academy gave Nathan the chance to study Calculus, AP Chemistry, and Modern Physics, but more importantly, it provided an environment where it was okay to be interested in nerdy things. During his time at the Academy, Nathan made many life-long and dear friends and has since become part of a network of amazing alums who have spread across the world doing all sorts of interesting things.

After the graduating from the Academy in 1993, Nathan went to Purdue University where he earned B.S. degrees in both Physics and Aerospace Engineering in 1997 and an M.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering in 2000 with Prof. James Longuski as his advisor. After graduation, Nathan got his dream job at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He began his career on the navigation team for the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and was part of the task force that figured out how to recover the Huygens mission after a problem was found with its relay radio, ensuring that the probe successfully made the first-ever landing on Saturn’s moon Titan.

In 2007, Nathan transitioned from the Cassini project to work on several mission studies and proposals. Most notably, Nathan was part of a Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) workshop that found it was possible to redirect a small asteroid into an orbit around the Moon using high power Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP). NASA was excited by this result and decided to study this Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) concept in detail. Nathan now leads the team developing the trajectories for ARM. He also is part of NASA studies investigating mission architectures for affordable human Mars missions using the high-power SEP technologies that would be developed by ARM. With luck (and Congressional approval), these studies could lead to human Mars missions in the 2030s.

Nathan has authored or co-authored over 35 conference papers and 8 journal articles and co-wrote an article for Scientific American (“This Way to Mars,” Dec. 2011). He has received two NASA Exceptional Achievement Medals and JPL’s Lew Allen award for his research in gravity-assist trajectory design. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering remotely from Purdue University with Prof. Jim Longuski, which he expects to receive in 2015.

On the way to all of his space adventures, Nathan met the love of his life the first weekend after he moved to Los Angeles, and together they have four children. Whenever the opportunity arises, the Strange Family likes to explore California and the West on camping and road trip adventures.