Hopes for another joint US-USSR spaceflight exercise rekindled
As the United States and the Soviet Union edge toward renewed arms control negotiations, and possibly other high-level talks, hopes for a joint manned spaceflight exercise have also been rekindled.
A spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) says this ''certainly is something we would be interested in doing, were the Soviets interested.''
There has not been such an eagerness for a US-USSR spaceflight since the historic Apollo-Soyuz Test Project during which spacecraft of the two nations linked up on orbit in July 1975. Indeed, Senate Joint Resolution 236, signed by President Reagan Oct. 30, commits the United States to seek such a mission.
The specific exercise mentioned would be a simulated space rescue in which a US shuttle would rendezvous with the Soviet Salyut space station. Then a US space-suited astronaut would use a ''rescue ball'' to bring ''stranded'' crew members from the Salyut to the shuttle.
The rescue ball resembles a three-foot diameter collapsible basketball. It has a self-contained life-support system and is roomy enough to accommodate the largest astronauts. NASA has several of the balls for use with the shuttles. A NASA spokesman explained that the United States already has virtually all of the hardware and rendezvous know-how to carry out the rescue exercise. All that's needed is an airlock on the Salyut, he said.
So far, the Soviets have not indicated any official interest in this particular mission. However, they have sent indirect signals from time to time (such as unofficial comments in Radio Moscow broadcasts) which do express a desire for some kind of space cooperation with the United States. Indeed, such cooperation has continued quietly at a modest level even when US-USSR relations have seemed to be at low ebb.
Experts from the two countries have maintained consultation and information exchange in space medicine (effects of weightlessness on astronauts) and in some planetary research, especially Venus research. These are areas where the Soviets show clear leadership with their extended manned space-station missions and Venus landing craft.
At the moment, there are two US-made stumbling blocks to broader cooperation. One is lack of a formal framework. President Reagan refused to renew a 10 -year-old space cooperation pact in May 1982 when martial law was declared in Poland. (However, there is a treaty which would cover a space rescue exercise.) Also, concern about giving the Soviets access to advanced US technology could complicate joint missions.
Nevertheless, a study by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment has concluded that the United States may well have more to lose by not cooperating with the Soviets than it stands to gain by trying to keep its technology to itself. This Workshop on Possible Future US-Soviet Space Cooperation, held at OTA headquarters May 8, pointed out that the Soviets have been improving their capabilities substantially and have been seeking international partners vigorously. For example, France and the Soviet Union are cooperating in a mission to Halley's comet.
The workshop noted that, as the Soviets gain capability in both manned spaceflight and unmanned exploration, they appear to have more self-confidence and show greater openness toward other nations in these fields. The study warned that the United States could find itself isolated in space science, especially if it continues to shun the Soviets while Western Europe, India, Japan, and others increasingly seek Soviet cooperation. The resolution that President Reagan signed commits the administration to seek just such cooperation in space science, as well as in manned spaceflight.