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Gates Urges Students to Push Science, Technology Limits

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates encouraged students participating in the Team America Rocketry Challenge on May 19 to reach for the sky as they help advance science and technology research.

Gates attended the nationwide competition in The Plains, Va., and cheered on students from around the country as they put their rocketry skills to the test. He presented the first-place trophy to a team from Newark Memorial High School in California that beat out 99 other squads with a near-perfect score.

The Defense Department, NASA, the Aerospace Industries Association, and the American Association of Physics Teachers sponsored the event, in its fifth year, to encourage students to study math and science in middle and high school.

Gates called the contest an excellent start to a journey that will lead the students as far their aspirations take them.

“Science opens up our world to us, and it is a breathtaking place. There has never been a better time to learn about physics, the mechanics of flight and space exploration,” he said. “You’ve taken your first steps. Now keep going.”

Gates reminded the students of the adage about invention being 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. But the payoff is huge, he said, with advances in math and science having a ripple effect throughout society. He cited examples like the global positioning system and Internet, which were developed for the Defense Department then applied throughout the private sector.

Evolving technology is critical to the country’s defense, too, Gates said. “As secretary of defense, I’m in charge of some of the most high-tech hardware anywhere in the world,” he said.

He went on to describe one of the most advanced projects, a system to shoot down missiles that might be fired at the United States. “Basically, it’s like trying to hit a bullet with another bullet,” he said. “It’s not easy.”

Gates paused, then added with a smile, “If any of you have had a breakthrough in propulsion or ballistics during this competition, I hope you’ll let me know.”

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