WASHINGTON—U.S. space scientists, frustrated by delays caused by the explosion of the shuttle Challenger, have increasingly pinned their hopes on joint experiments with a thriving Soviet space program. But serious technical problems in recent Soviet missions, combined with unprecedented domestic concern over the cost of the Soviet space program, now threaten to dim once-bright opportunities for scientific collaboration in many areas.

Ironically, the recent Soviet setbacks also have spawned fears that Congress may back away from its own financial commitment to space exploration. A crippled Soviet, space program poses less of a threat to U.S. leadership in space, so the logic goes; and requires fewer dollars to compete against.

The most serious of the recent Soviet mishaps, in terms of its effect on joint efforts, was the mechanical failure of Phobos 2 in April. The accident occured just as the probe was finally approaching its target— the Martian moon Phobos—after...

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