SDRC continued to play a significant role in a number of NASA projects, offering design support for the Space Shuttle and shuttle-recovery efforts. Its methods and tools quickly spread into wide use, so much so that the company eventually began to morph into a software firm.
In 2000, Baker led the friendly spin-off of a new company, ATA Engineering Inc., which has continued to provide award-winning design, analysis, and testing to the aerospace industry as well as other industries that face complex engineering challenges , such as theme parks.
The company is also unusual in that it is entirely employee owned. “No one owns more than 3 percent of the company, and every full-time employee gets a share of our annual distribution,” says Baker, now president of ATA. “And best of all, I get to keep doing the engineering I love to do.” Most recently, Baker advanced new methods to optimize the structures of rocket engines, including the RL10B-2 and J-2X.
Baker also led ATA’s involvement with the Curiosity rover. The company performed thousands of computer simulations of the landing phase to see how well the rover’s six wheels could handle a possible rough or uneven landing site. ATA engineers also analyzed the robotic arm to make sure that the jarring work of the drill would not damage other delicate equipment. In 2013, ATA received NASA’s George M. Low Award for technical and business excellence.
Baker remains steadfastly committed to fundamental research and education. ATA and its employees collaborate with several universities, maintaining active student co-op and intern programs, as well as jointly developing and teaching classes.
“Many engineers believe that you have to make a choice between an academic career or a big company,” Baker says. “I believe that we have discovered a wonderful place in between, where you can still do research and find solutions to real-world problems that make a difference.”