President Reagan is proposing a freeze on overall government spending, but science is one area that he wouldn't leave out in the cold. Under his proposed fiscal 1984 budget, federal funds for research into the Earth's crust would go up 60 percent. NASA would begin designing a Venus Radar Mapper. Exotic new materials would get their very own research center. Up to 200 young university scientists would be favored with research grants averaging $30, 000 a year.
Funds for basic research would rise 10 percent. Research and development, a larger category dominated by weapons spending, would get a 17 percent increase.
The budget doesn't treat all areas of science equally. Overall, spending for basic research would rise to $6.6 billion next year if Mr. Reagan has his way. Much of that $600 million increase would be devoted to physical sciences and engineering, whose research funds would go up 15 percent. Life sciences, the largest category in the research budget, would get a 3 percent increase - a rise that doesn't keep up with the expected inflation rate.
Basic research in energy programs would be a big winner, increasing 19 percent, to $1.02 billion. This money goes to nuclear research and high-energy physics projects such as running a new superconductor magnet accelerator.
The National Science Foundation, the major source of funds for university research, would get $1.2 billion - 17 percent more money. Among other things, the money would make possible larger grants, a 61 percent hike in funds for scientific instruments, and the Presidential Young Investigators Awards - a $6 million pool of grants for young science and engineering faculty.
Basic research at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration would get a 13 percent boost. Basic research funded by the Defense Department would go up 12 percent to $867 million.
But health research - at more than $2 billion the largest item within the life sciences category - would rise only 2 percent.
Life sciences have got more than their share of research money since the mid- 1960s, said presidential science adviser George Keyworth at a budget briefing, and ''in a climate of intense fiscal scrutiny, it's no longer possible to spread increases uniformly throughout science.''
The much larger category of research and development, though it includes basic research, shows a far different spending mix. Overall, R&D would go up 17 percent to $47 billion. Within that category, military-related R&D would rise 29 percent. At $30 billion, it would account for the bulk of government R&D spending. Most of the military increase is related to development of the MX and Trident II ballistic missiles.
Spending on civilian R&D would stay stable - with certain areas, especially alternative energy, suffering severe cuts. R&D for fossil fuel, solar, and conservation programs would be cut 57 percent.