For a country that had been so critical of the United States for its space-shuttle effort, Russia seems to have helped itself to a generous portion of design and technology developed by NASA for it first space-shuttle.

More than one U.S. space-shuttle official said the Russian shuttle, Buran, which this week made a successful unmanned two-orbit flight, aappeared heavily dependent on NASA work. Indeed, many Americans looking at pictures of the craft had to blink twice to make sure they weren't viewing Discovery or the soon-to-fly Atlantis."Soviet orbiter development has been heavily dependent on U.S. orbiter propulsion, computer, materials and airframe design technology," according to the l987 edition of the Pentagon's annual assessment of Soviet military power. "By using U.S. technology and designs, the Soviets were able to produce an orbiter years earlier, and at far less cost than if they had depended soley on their own technology. Money and scientific expertise could thus be diverted to other areas."

But who's complaining? If NASA's work was so heavily involved as it seemed to be, then the Soviet space flight amounts, in effect, to another test of America's own design capability.

Besides, imitation is still the best form of flattery. Too bad the Russians don't ape the U.S. in economics and politics as well as in space technology.