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Another triumph for space cooperation

August 12, 1983



Thought boggles at the news that heat radiating faintly from material at a temperature of 300 degrees below zero F. and located 160 trillion miles away has revealed the existence of another ''solar system.''

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Certainly the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), which detected it, is a marvel of space technology. It also is both a symbol and the substance of effective international space science cooperation. The project focuses the best talents of British, Dutch, and US experts on one of the most formidable observing tasks astronomers have ever undertaken.

Throughout its 340-day mission, due to end in January, the IRAS sends data at a rate roughly equivalent to 10 million English words daily. It takes sharp perception to note discoveries such as the new planetary system as this information floods into computer files. Many years of dedicated research will be needed to make the most of this massive data bank, which covers objects ranging from nearby asteroids to distant galaxies.

By sharing the work - and the cost - the Netherlands, Britain, and the US have minimized the burden. It is an example the Reagan administration should ponder.

While the US has encouraged other nations to join with it in space projects, it has not been an entirely satisfactory partner. Unilateral cancellation of its share of a program and changes of plan without adequate consultation have angered European partners especially. Now, in an effort to keep US technology at home, the administration also has begun to restrict the access of its space partners to necessary (and nonmilitary) information. Such tactics are shortsighted. They sour the atmosphere and fail to give the US any meaningful technological edge. The US would do better to opt for the benefits of cooperation as exemplified by the IRAS program.

Meanwhile, we can share the astronomers' excitement in finding what appears to be a planetary system at an early stage of formation orbiting the star Vega. This supports the theory that planets may be common in our galaxy. To suggest further that such a system may evolve to support organic life is still merely speculation. But it is good to know that our solar system may not be alone.