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Pact Drafted for Soviet, U.S. Space Cooperation : Accord, Which Could Be Signed at Next Summit, Envisions Sharing Data From Planetary Probes

November 11, 1986|RUDY ABRAMSON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — U.S. and Soviet officials have concluded a framework agreement for the two countries to undertake cooperative scientific exploration of Mars and other planets, and the pact could be signed at a summit meeting of President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Monday.

The broad agreement was completed several days ago in a meeting of U.S. and Soviet space experts and representatives of the U.S. State Department and the Soviet Foreign Ministry at the National Academy of Sciences.

No Joint Missions

Sources, who asked not to be identified, said that the understanding makes no commitment to a specific joint mission but envisions broad cooperation and information sharing from unmanned planetary exploration programs already under way in both countries.

Officials taking part in the five-day session, the second meeting to discuss renewed space cooperation, were not authorized to sign the agreement. Sources said it is expected that the pact, replacing a cooperative agreement that the United States allowed to lapse because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Soviet support of martial law in Poland, would be signed by Reagan and Gorbachev if another summit meeting is held.

The earlier agreement was signed in 1972 at the peak of the Richard M. Nixon Administration's "detente" with the Soviet Union, and it led to a rendezvous and docking in space by a U.S. Apollo spacecraft and a Soviet Soyuz vehicle.

Landing on Mars

For months, there has been increasing talk in scientific and engineering circles of the United States' and the Soviet Union's jointly developing the equipment to land an unmanned probe on Mars to gather samples and return them to Earth.

Although the new draft agreement is understood to contain no such initiative, sources said it provides a framework for negotiations on ambitious joint projects in the future.

Specifically, the new understanding calls for the Soviet Union to share scientific data from its 1988 Phobos probe, which is to land on a Martian moon and make observations of the sun.

It calls for the United States to similarly share with Soviet scientists data returned from its Magellan probe to Venus, which is to be launched by the space shuttle in the spring of 1989, and its Mars Observer, which probably will be launched by the shuttle in 1990.

The U.S. planetary exploration schedule was devastated by the Challenger explosion last January, which grounded the shuttle fleet.

Renewed Space Exploration

With the remaining three shuttles expected to return to flight status in early 1988, NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher is scheduled to announce in about two months detailed plans for the revitalization of the U.S. planetary exploration program.

The conclusion of the new agreement, under intense discussion since last spring, was reported by Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine.

Although there has been no government-sanctioned cooperation between U.S. and Soviet space scientists in six years, informal exchanges have continued under the sponsorship of universities, scientific societies and other third parties.

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