The long setback in America's space program from the Challenger disaster hasn't made the Soviet Union complacent about its lead in space, says a University of Utah scientist.

"The Soviets respect our technology and fully expect us to bounce back into the space race, beginning with a resumption of shuttle flights in the near future," said Dr. Richard W. Shorthill, research associate professor of mechanical engineering. Shorthill worked on the Apollo space program.Shorthill said many Soviet scientists he has met at international conferences seem to have greater faith in America's technological capabilities than portions of America's scientific community do.

Even today, the Soviets are interested in data the United States collected in the mid-1970s from two unmanned spacecraft that conducted soil and atmospheric experiments on the surface of Mars, Shorthill said.

Shorthill recently attended an international organization of space scientists in Finland. Russia's plans for manned and unmanned trips to Mars and America's plans for building a multi-module space station received the most attention at the conference.