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Signals from Saturn

People who wouldn't dream of trying to fix a toaster have to appreciate those trying to fix a space vehicle a billion miles away. The glow should not be taken off Voyager 2's triumph by a "mysterious problem" that caused corrective efforts to begin soon after the instruments of man hit their Saturn bull's-eye. Four years on the way, the craft was just 2.7 seconds and 30 miles short of perfection in bringing the camera eye of Earth closer than ever before to the second largest planet. Whatever this Voyager does now -- with Uranus and Neptune in its faraway flight plan -- it has given all of us reason to renew the sheer sense of possibility that can generate leaps of progress in any walk of life.

Despite loss of some planned pictures, the extraordinary scientific results of this enterprise will be analyzed to serve human knowledge for ages to come. It is part of the peaceful exploration of space that must be clung to in defiance of the image of space as an arena of warfare. Every step of space mastery emphasizes that international treaties to forestall conflict in space need to be vigorously pursued.

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Yet the combat image is bolstered not only by commercialized media fantasies but by development of actual space weaponry -- and by talk that military reasons might be raised in order to budget United States space programs beyond what has been called their "last hurrah" this week. Without ignoring the potential military threats in space. Americans should be willing to see that judicious support of space programs for peaceful uses, for expansion in the kind of knowledge whose fruits cannot be predicted, is a sound investment.

The Reagan administration has suggested it is "very receptive" to space exploration and development within budgetary restraints. Voyager 2's proofs of United States technical competence should help the administration know that whatever money it can spare would not be a reckless waste.

The rest of us, meanwhile, can only wonder if Saturn, for all its weight of orbiting snow and ice, can maintain its ancient aura of sluggishness and gloom. Surely at some point this week Shakespeare was proven right and "heavy Saturn laugh'd and leapt."

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