Code for success

A computer from his grandmother shaped CST-100 Starliner software engineer’s career.

May 12, 2021 in Space

Sael Casado, Starliner flight software developer, inside Boeing’s Houston-based Avionics and Software Integration Lab (ASIL) during the five-day end-to-end mission simulation known as the ASIL Mission Rehearsal, or AMR.

(Jessica Landa photo)

Starliner software engineer Sael Casado learned at a young age the importance of working hard to make ends meet.

Growing up in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, he and his two brothers often helped their dad. In between working restaurant jobs, Sael would occasionally assist his father, a residential contractor, on job sites. Do-it-yourself projects around the house were a team sport with their dad.

“We come from very humble beginnings and we had to save wherever we could,” Casado said, adding that his parents and grandparents are originally from Cuba and migrated first to California during the Cuban revolution when Fidel Castro came into power.

Casado has been with Boeing since 2008, including eight years with the Starliner program. As a teen, he not only enjoyed working with his hands but also had a keen interest in computers. So much so, that he'd forgo birthday and Christmas presents so his grandmother could buy him his first computer when he was in the eighth grade.

“That computer was more than a year's worth of presents and meant so much to me. It really shaped my career path,” Casado said. “That’s when I started tinkering with and upgrading computers. I would save money to buy parts and add them or replace them in the computer to increase performance.”

He’d also take all the computer classes he could in high school and college. He was interested in how computers worked on the inside and found that programming came easily to him. Casado, who has a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Florida International University, didn’t know where his skill with computer programming would take him until he learned about Boeing while in college at conferences and career fairs through the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

“I was intrigued by the complex problems space offered and the solutions you have to come up with,” he said. “You have to be very mindful of everything of you are doing.”

He also was focused on finding a career that would support his twin daughters, who are now 17. “They are my motivation to do good and to be the best engineer I can be for them,” Casado said.

His first responsibility was testing and verifying software for the International Space Station, or ISS. He also continued his education while working on the ISS by receiving a master’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Houston–Clear Lake.

On the Starliner program, his focus is on developing flight software, performing analysis, supporting integration testing and providing support and troubleshooting during missions. Casado and his teammates have completed Formal Qualification Testing, which is a comprehensive test of flight software prior to the second Orbital Flight Test, and recent end-to-end mission rehearsal tests.

Casado said part of the software testing included the System Management Computer and Flight Management Computer — essentially the brains of the Starliner spacecraft — being integrated with vehicle hardware such as crew displays, GPS and sensor tracking systems.

“There are different mission scenarios we run, like ascent to docking and undocking to landing, as well as off-nominal scenarios like ascent abort,” Casado said. “Running these in the Avionics and Software Integrated Lab is an integrated effort that requires significant time and attention to details to ensure that scenarios run to completion and that the data collected during each scenario run is as expected.”

Flight software manager Stephanie Lu said Casado is an important contributor to the team.

“He is a talented and hard-working engineer,” Lu said. “He collaborates well with internal and external teams and is always ready to support when help is needed, including late nights and weekends.”

During OFT-2, he’ll be on console at the Mission Control Center at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, similar to the first Starliner launch in December 2019. He was part of the team that worked throughout the night aiding Starliner in making its historic landing on Dec. 22, 2019, as the first American orbital space capsule to land on American soil rather than in an ocean.

Added Casado: “We are working really hard to make sure this mission and all future missions are successful.”

Sael Casado in Houston’s Red Flight Control Room after Starliner made its historic landing in December 2019.

(Casado provided)