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Sanetra Bailey - Uniquely Adventurous Robot Designer
September 24, 2013


Name: Sanetra Bailey
Title: Computer Engineer
Organization: Code 587, Science Data Processing Branch, Software Engineering Division, Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate

During the week, computer engineer Sanetra Bailey writes programs for robotic satellites. On weekends, she coaches high school students on making LEGO robots for national competitions–and her team just came in first at Nationals.

What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?

I design, build and test data processing field-programmable gate array hardware for various missions. The FPGA has a sea-of-gates design, similar to a box full of LEGOS of different sizes and shapes, which I use to build reconfigurable digital circuits. I use a hardware description language, VHDL, to interconnect the different components.

Right now I’m working on the Restore mission, which will design and build a satellite capable of remotely surveying, repairing, refueling, relocating and replacing other satellites in space. Restore will be a satellite with several cameras each of which will take pictures of whatever satellite we need to service. I am programming the FPGA to process the images of the client satellite that will be received by Restore via lasers. The pictures will allow Restore to get as close as possible to the client satellite. We hope to launch in 2018.

A neat thing about Restore is that it will be a “smart satellite” capable of locating client satellites by itself. This advanced robotic mission will save the U.S. billions of dollars.

Why did you choose your profession? [image-78]

One of my high school teachers who noticed that I excelled in math and science suggested that I consider computer engineering as a profession. At the time I did not know much about the field, so I researched and discovered that it was a relatively new discipline merging electrical engineering and computer science. I found this intriguing and decided to give it a try. The rest is history.

Why did you come to work at Goddard and what makes you stay?

My senior year in college, my favorite professor was asked by Tom Flatley, who later became my boss at Goddard, to recommend his top students for a full-time position here. After a phone interview, I was offered a position. I had another job opportunity, but NASA was the “cooler” of the two. I have been here for about three years. The reasons why I choose to stay include, but are not limited to, the innovative work, the work to life balance, job security and amazing coworkers.

What do you enjoy most about being in the relatively new field of computer engineering?

Computer engineering is becoming more and more popular. As a computer engineer, I have met a lot of electrical engineers and computer scientists who do some of the same work that I do. I enjoy working on both sides of the spectrum. What makes computer engineering different is that we focus on the interface between the hardware, normally made by electrical engineers, and the software, generally written by computer scientists. The work has always been there, but the emphasis is now a little different.

If you weren’t in your current profession, what would you be doing?

I would probably be a fashion designer or seamstress. I used to design and sew my own clothes and plan on getting a new sewing machine soon. With computer engineering, you design the circuitry of the FPGA to do what you want it to do. With sewing, you design the outfit to look how you want it to look. So both professions are similar.

Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests or activities outside of work that people do not generally know? [image-94]

Every Saturday, I volunteer with the Future Innovative Rising Engineers National Society of Black Engineers, Junior Chapter, in Greenbelt, Md. I work with high school boys and girls to help them program LEGO Mindstorm robots for an annual national competition. In March 2013, our group sent two teams to Nationals. One of our teams placed first out of 26 teams.

Also, I’m a Big Sister and meet with my ten-year-old Little Sister once to twice a week. She is interested in the LEGO robots and rockets. I’m also teaching her how to design and sew. We’re writing a children’s book together about a little girl who can transform herself into different characters.

Is there someplace in the world that you want to visit or someplace you have been and want to go back and visit?

I love to travel. I’ve been to the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Ukraine. My next trip will be to the Dominican Republic. My goal is to visit every continent and all 50 states. I’m half-way there.

What one word or phrase best describes you?

Unique. I’ve been called unique all my life.

What is your “six-word memoir”? A six-word memoir describes something, in this case, yourself, in just six words.

Adventurous open-minded inspiring the next generation.

What is the one big dream you have?

My big dream is to have a closet full of unique and beautiful clothes designed and made by me.

Related Link:

Engineering As A Competitive Sport - Goddard View, Vol. 9 Issue 9

Kamili Jackson - Giving is Paying Back

Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Sanetra Bailey
Image of Sanetra Bailey
Image Credit: 
NASA/W. Hrybyk
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EDC Team with the First Place trophy
Posing with the first place trophy. L to R: Sanetra Bailey, Jahmyire Jones (Freshman), Shannon Kirkland (Senior), Isiah Crite (Senior), and Wesley Ross (Sophomore)
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Courtesy of Sanetra Bailey
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The robot
The team’s winning robot.
Image Credit: 
Courtesy of Sanetra Bailey
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Page Last Updated: September 24th, 2013
Page Editor: Lynn Jenner