The Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, into orbit on October 4, 1957, initiating the "Space Race." When the 85th Congress reconvened in 1958, one of its first tasks was the creation of a Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration. This Select Committee wrote the Space Act, which was signed into law on July 29, 1958, and established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the permanent House Committee on Science and Astronautics, the forerunner of the present Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
*1960s-era NASA mission control equipment on display in Kennedy Space Center
The Science and Astronautics Committee was the first standing committee created in the House in 11 years and the first committee since 1892 to be established for an entirely new area of jurisdiction. The Committee’s initial jurisdiction included exploration and control of outer space, astronautical research and development, scientific research and development, science scholarships and legislation relating to scientific agencies. The scientific agencies under the Committee initially included the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)), NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Council and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
In 1974, the Committee’s name was changed to the “Committee on Science and Technology.” At that time, the Committee’s jurisdiction was expanded to include legislation related to energy, the environment, the atmosphere, civil aviation research and development and the National Weather Service. The Committee on Science and Technology was also given a "special oversight" function providing for exclusive responsibility among all Congressional Standing Committees to review and study, on a continuing basis, all laws, programs and government activities involving Federal non-military research and development.
Civilian nuclear research and development was added to the Committee’s jurisdiction in 1977 when the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy was abolished. The name was again changed at the outset of the 100th Congress to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The Republican Party took control of the House in 1995 and officially changed the name to the “Committee on Science.”
In its early years, the Committee was an important partner in the Apollo Program that led to a man landing on the moon and strengthening science education and scientific research. After the Committee’s role expanded, the Committee has played an important role in much of the legislation Congress has considered dealing with domestic and international science, technology, standards, and competitiveness.
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, terrorism moved to the forefront of the Committee's agenda. The Science Committee worked to ensure that the Federal Government was investing in the science and technology necessary to combat terrorism over the long term and to assist our nation's first responders. Congress established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002 primarily to improve the nation’s ability to prevent terrorist attacks. The Science and Technology Directorate—created though bill language developed by the Committee on Science and Technology—funds research, development, testing and evaluation to improve homeland security, and works to transfer relevant technologies to federal, state, and local governments, and the private sector.
When Democrats resumed control of Congress in 2007, the name of Committee was changed back to the “Committee on Science and Technology.” Enhancing long-term economic competitiveness through investments in science and technology emerged as a centerpiece of Committee activities in the 110th and 111th Congresses. In response to the National Academies’ landmark report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, the Committee led a bipartisan effort to advance the Academies’ recommendations, culminating in President Bush’s signature of the America COMPETES Act in 2007. The legislation, as enacted, put the budgets of three key federal science agencies on a path to double over ten years: NSF, NIST, and DOE Office of Science. In 2010, a reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act extended and expanded activities called for in the original legislation. It passed as one of the last votes of the 111th Congress and was signed into law in January, 2011.
In the 112th Congress, Chairman Ralph Hall has added “Space” back into the Committee’s name: “The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology” – a nod to the Committee’s history, broad jurisdiction, and the importance of space exploration in maintaining American innovation and competitiveness.
Click HERE for a more in depth history, from the Committee's founding in 1958, through its 50th Anniversary in 2008