Rockets on the Hill

AIA CEO and President Eric Fanning
Rockets on the Hill Reception
Friday, May 11, 2018
Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning and welcome to Rockets on the Hill. I’m Eric Fanning, the President and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association. I’m excited to see so many aspiring scientists, engineers and astronauts with us today. Thank you for joining us and your commitment to this competition.

We’re going places—like Mars—where human explorers have never been before, most likely with technologies that haven’t yet been invented.  And the people who will help create those technologies are standing in this room.

We expect that your involvement in the rocketry challenge will provide you a great foundation to keep developing the skills and interests you’ll need to be our industry’s trailblazers of the future.

I want to tell everyone in attendance, the students, teachers, mentors, parents and our friends from the congressional offices represented here today what an amazing group of rocket contest participants we have this year—our 17th year.

AIA President & CEO Eric Fanning addresses hundreds of students at Rockets on the Hill

Our 100 national finalists hail from 28 states and the District of Columbia. They won the right to be here after demonstrating their rocketry skills in a year-long journey that involved 800 teams from 46 states and DC.

Tomorrow, they will compete for more than $100,000 in prizes and scholarships and the right to represent our country this summer in England, at the International Rocketry Challenge held at the Farnborough International Air Show, against teams from the United Kingdom, France and Japan.

I might add the U.S. team has won the international challenge the past three years in a row. So, to whomever wins tomorrow the pressure is on!

I’m also impressed by some of the compelling stories about our teams.

The Lincoln High School team from central Alabama has become expert on using 3D printing to develop rocket components and has partnered with a design app to push their craftsmanship to a new level.

Rep. Robert Aderholt poses with a few of the six teams representing his home state of Alabama.

At Creekview High in Canton, Georgia, a young man on the team, Braden, decided for a senior project to become a mentor for aspiring rocketeers at the middle school across the street, helping to create a talent pipeline that should keep his school in the contest for years to come.

Kevin, a member of the District of Columbia’s Schools Without Walls team runs a non-profit called STEM4the Streets that brings science content to underserved communities in our nation’s capital. He’s proud to be a part of a generation that he says will be more open to working with other countries on space education.

Also of note is the diversity of our competitors, as tapping the talents of people from all walks of life is the best way to ensure an industry changing as rapidly as ours is prepared to meet the challenges of the future.

The percentages of girls who’ve participated in our competition the past three year—27 percent—is higher than the percentage of women in our industry. And we’re proud of the 12 all-girl squads competing this year.

For all our competitors I wish you the best of luck tomorrow and in the future, where we expect to see you working on the planetary spacecraft, drones and supersonic aircraft that will be propelling our country forward.

Our first guest speaker is Elisa Quintana, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, some 10 miles north of here. She’s developing a guest investigator program to enable broad community participation with the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS mission. This is the space telescope that’s expected to discover hundreds of earthlike planets orbiting nearby stars. That’s a pretty heady project to be working on and one worthy of a person of Dr. Quintana’s talents. Incidentally, she earned her Ph.D. degree in Physics from the University of Michigan, and as a proud native of Michigan, I’m always glad to see a Wolverine do so well. Please welcome Elisa.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center astrophysicist Dr. Elisa Quintana

At this time, I’m pleased to welcome and introduce a member of Congress who is here to congratulate four competing teams from his district, and six total from his home state of Alabama, Congressman Robert Aderholt.

Representative Robert Aderholt from Alabama

Thank you, Congressman.

Our next speaker is Celena Dopart, a human factors systems engineer for the Boeing Company’s Commercial Crew Program. Commercial crew is one of the exciting developments we have in our industry—with private companies investing their own money to help provide NASA with transportation services for astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Celena has a Master’s degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of our nation’s top research universities. Please join me in welcoming Celena.

Boeing Commercial Crew engineer Celena Dopart

I’d like to thank everyone for joining us today and remind all the students that we’d like to get a photo of you with your rockets in the rotunda right outside. Following the photo, AIA staff will hand out a packet of information that will help you locate your legislators’ offices, so you can pay a visit and talk about your rocket contest experience.

Enjoy your time on Capitol Hill and good luck tomorrow.

AIA President & CEO Eric Fanning (left) and Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri chat with students from Richards Middle School