IT DIDN'T take the Soviets long to start their own investigation as to why their nuclear satellite Cosmos 954 fell down after being sent into orbit.

Don't ask me how I found out, but this is how the hearings have been progressing.

"Comrade Master Scientist Mickelov, you were in charge of sending up Cosmos 954?"

"Yes, Comrade."

"And you are aware it fell down?"

"I heard it on the 'Voice of America,' but as you know, as loyal member of the party, I do not believe anything I hear on American radio."

"Unhappily it is true, Comrade Mickelov. Cosmos 954 is no longer a happy satellite in the sky."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Comrades."

"We're glad to hear you're sorry Mickelov. We're sorry, too. What we want to know is why 954 is no longer in orbit."

"Maybe Americans have way of shooting down our satellites, without us knowing it."

"Maybe. Or maybe the person who sent up the satellite in the first place made dumb, stupid error."

"But Comrades, I sent up 953 satellites and I never made mistake before."

"We know that, Mickelov. So our question is what happened to the 954th?"

"Let me see. The rocket was supposed to go into orbit 150 miles up in the air. It was launched on Sept. 18, 1977, and was 46 feet long and weighed 8,000 pounds, of which 100 was enriched uranium which would, if it worked correctly, stay in space for 600 to 1,000 years. Now if you multiply X by three and then add Y, you should have Z."

"Aha," said one of the investigators. "X times three added to Y doesn't equal Z."

"It doesn't?"

"Where did you put the decimal point Mickelov?"

"Here, where I always put it."

"The decimal point belongs over here."

"But nobody told me to put the decimal point there."

Ignorance is no excuse. Mickelov, do you realize that because of your equation, Cosmos 954 would have to crash into earth within five months of its launch?"

"Everyone is so picky, picky, picky. So I put decimal point in the wrong place. Do we have to make a people's federal case out of it?"

"That decimal point cost us 500 million rubles, not to mention the fact that parts of the satellite are strewn over all of northern Canada. When Americans find the pieces they will know exactly what we put in satellite to make it fly. Our spy system will be destroyed."

"Nobody's perfect."

"You know what's going to happen to you Mickelov?"

"I can only guess."

"You are getting the Order of Lenin for Scientific Achievement with Three Red Sickles."

"I am?"

"We have no choice. If we punish you we will be admitting we did something wrong. If we give you award, it backs up our story that we always intended Comsmos 954 to fall down in Canada after staying in orbit for only four months."

"Thank you Comrades. I knew you would have faith in me. Whey I get my award do you know what I'll say? 'Cosmos 954 was one small step for man, and one giant step for mankind.'"

"That's very good Mickelov. You may not know where to put a decimal point, but you certainly have a way with words."