WHEN a US-Western European spacecraft passes through the tail of the Giacobinni-Zinner comet on Sept. 11, a Soviet observer will join NASA mission controllers to watch the action. The craft's experience in traversing the dusty comet environment could help Soviet controllers better guide their own Vega probes when they inspect Halley's comet next March. The Soviet presence at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland would also symbolize the fact that the United States and the Soviet Union have continued to cooperate informally on some space projects even though the relevant treaty has lapsed. Now, there is new hope within the US space community and Congress that a renewal of full formal space cooperation can be worked out at the November summit meeting.
That hope inspired many speeches and corridor discussions during recent activities -- including a conference on Mars exploration -- held in Washington to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz joint US-Soviet orbital flight.
As US Rep. Bill Nelson (D) of Florida told a public symposium at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, there is growing, if cautious, support in Congress for renewed space cooperation with the Soviets. Space is seen as an area where the two superpowers can find worthwhile projects to work on jointly despite their mutual suspicions and rivalry, and despite starkly different political systems and cultures.
This rising expectation underlies Congress's joint resolution which President Reagan signed last October committing him to seek such cooperation. It also underlies the companion resolutions introduced two weeks ago by Mr. Nelson and by Sen. Spark Matsunaga (D) of Hawaii, urging the US to seek the partnership of the Soviet Union and other nations in an International Space Year of wide-ranging space research. The ISY would start in 1992, the year marking the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of A merica as well as the 75th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.