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Historical Highlights

The Committee on Science and Astronautics

July 21, 1958
The Committee on Science and Astronautics Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Louisiana Congressman Overton Brooks spent 13 terms in the House of Representatives. Elected in 1936, he served until his death in 1961.
On this date, House Resolution 580 authorized the establishment of the Committee on Science and Astronautics. When the Soviet Union launched the first manmade satellite, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957, the United States effectively entered a “space race” with its Cold War adversary. Five months later, the House established the Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration, which boasted noteworthy bipartisan leadership. Future Speaker of the House John McCormack of Massachusetts chaired the panel and former Speaker Joseph Martin of Massachusetts was the Ranking Member. The House quickly transformed the select committee into the Committee on Science and Astronautics—a measure which took effect at the opening of the 86th Congress (1959–1961). Representative Overton Brooks of Louisiana served as the first chairman of the new standing committee. Several committee name changes reflected the expansion of its jurisdiction beyond space research in subsequent decades. Representative Kenneth Hechler of West Virginia, who served on the panel in its early days, recalled its special sense of mission. “There was a sense of destiny, a tingle of realization that every member was embarking on a voyage of discovery,” Hechler wrote years later, “to learn about the unknown, to point powerful telescopes toward the cosmos and unlock secrets of the universe, and to take part in a great experiment.”

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