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SHADES of Apollo/Soyuz. That detente-era merging of United States and Soviet spacecraft is finding a 1990s manifestation.

In an order to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, President Clinton has asked the agency to work with Russia in designing a less expensive version of the US space station Freedom. Russian hardware, including its own space station Mir, also could be used. The move has much to recommend it: NASA and its partners will be drawing on a nation with years of space-station experience and the heavy-lift rockets that can reduce the cost of shipping and handling.

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The original version of Freedom carried a $31 billion price tag. Mr. Clinton has since asked NASA to bring that figure down to earth. Another need is to keep the Europeans, Japanese, and Canadians aboard. The Japanese reportedly are less than enthusiastic about Russian participation.

Yet for high-cost projects like this, international cooperation is fast becoming the norm. Where better to turn than to the one nation whose space farers have set record after record for time spent on orbit?

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