WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is likely to become chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee when the new Congress convenes in January, a pair of sources said.

Of the three Republican lawmakers seeking the position, “Rep. Smith is the odds-on favorite,” a former Republican congressional staffer told SpaceNews Nov. 13.

Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) are competing against Smith for the position, but one House aide said Nov. 9 that the contest was “not even close.” Enough members of the House Republican Steering Committee, which is responsible for making committee appointments, have privately expressed a preference to give Smith the gavel, this aide said.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) is being forced to step down as House Science Committee chairman because of GOP rules that limit committee chairs to six-year terms. Those same rules will force Smith to step down as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when the new Congress convenes Jan. 3.

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...