Muhammad Ali saw one eight years ago. AID Director John Gillgan saw one when he was governor of Ohio and Jimmy Carter reported one while he was governor of Georgia. But all those celebrity UFO sightings may be nothing alongside the news that former astronaut Gordon Cooper believes that alien spacecraft may be buzzing the earth.

"I keep hearing these stories from credible sources inside the government and they just won't go away," Cooper said the other day from his office in Glendale, Calif., where he's now vice president prises. "I can't tell you the names of these sources but they're credible and frankly I think the government should release the information these sources have, no matter what the White House thinks."

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Whatever the White House thinks, Cooper will be on television Monday night to air some of what he thinks on "The Merv Griffin Show" (Channel 5, WTTG).Just a few minutes into their dialogue, Cooper and Griffin get into a discussion of UFO's and their believability.

Griffin lowers his voice as he tells th story of a spaceship landing in the recent past somewhere in North America a story that sounds suspiciously like and oft-repeated tale of a crash-landing in Mexico with two dead aliens and a third near-death. "There have been stories there were occupants," Griffin says, "and that out government was able to keep one alive . . ."

"I think it's credible." Cooper replies matter-offactly, "and I wiuld like to see the time when credible people would investigate these stories or refute them."

Griffin goes on and says the question everybody wants answered is: "What did the occupants look like? Reports have it they didn't look any different from us."

Cooper's reply is the clincher. "From everyone abducted or any contract they have with them," Cooper says, "they all agree even under hypnosis that the occupants are no different from what we are."

Does Gordon Cooper really believe that alien beings have visited the earth? Does the astronaut who flew twice (on Mercury 9 and Gemini 2) in space trust in the UFO? In talking with Cooper, it's clear that he wants to believe, if nothing more.

"I've been struggling to put my fingers on something," Cooper says, "and I must say there is a good possibility that this thing exists, that the incident took place. It makes you wonder."

It makes Cooper's astronaut colleagues wonder, too.Veterans Tom Stafford and Mike Collins said they never heard the stories Cooper says he heard. Chief Astronaut Donald K. (Deke) Sayton wondered when Cooper started hearing the tales he heard.

"I never heard Gordo mention UFOs the whole time he was an astronaut," Slayton said yesterday from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "The last time I saw him was last fall and he didn't says boo about it."

One must remember that Cooper is the guy who said he could see truck tracks in China and railroad tracks in Texas when he flew the sixth Mercury mission more than 15 years ago. None of the five astronauts before him saw what Cooper saw.