We had become so familiar with the uneventful comings and goings of the space shuttle that it became a fair target for satire, including Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" spoof of Sen. Jake Garn when he was in training to become the first member of Congress in space. Clearly, that kind of thing is not funny now. Yesterday, The New Yorker magazine stopped the presses because of a cartoon in the Feb. 3 issue. It showed two men in a bar. One man is commenting: "I wish they'd shoot my congressman into space." Some 33,000 newsstand copies had already gone out, as well as 12,000 to Canada and 500 to Europe.

Concerned about the inappropriateness of the humor, an order was issued to change the caption for the remaining 480,000 press run. It now reads: "I used to be a warm human being but now, I'm sorry to say, I'm a bit of a swine." A similar problem came up at Vanity Fair magazine, where an article by Washington writer Lisa McCormack on Garn was ready for the April issue for the first anniversary of his shuttle flight. It was a humorous piece for the Vanities section, titled "The Senator Who Fell to Earth." Vanities Editor Bob Collechello said it seemed wrong for the magazine to run the piece so soon after the shuttle disaster.

He said the lighthearted tone was out of place and read a quote from Garn that was in the article: "I spent three to four months with people who knew what they were doing, and then I had to return to the U.S. Senate." Collechello said the piece might run in April 1987 for the second anniversary of Garn's shuttle ride. Syndicated columnist Art Buchwald also replaced his column for today because of the disaster. He had written a political satire on Vice President George Bush. Buchwald said that while he had not written about the shuttle, he felt that this wasn't the time to satirize Bush, especially while he was at Cape Canaveral. The column will run at a later date. Gergen to Head U.S. News?

It's beginning to look more and more likely that U.S. News & World Report Managing Editor David R. Gergen could become the magazine's new editor. With the resignation of editor Shelby Coffey III to become editor of the Dallas Times Herald, Gergen has been functioning as acting editor, and it is felt the former top aide to President Reagan has the best inside track to the position. There has been considerable speculation around the magazine that Harold Evans, the editorial director, might become the editor.

Evans, who resigned as editor of the Times of London when Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch took over that paper, is said to have been offered the job by U.S. News owner Mortimer B. Zuckerman. He reportedly declined, saying he wanted to spend more time in New York with his wife Tina Brown, the editor of Vanity Fair , who Sunday gave birth to a son, George Frederick. Brown, who has been so successful with the sassy, unpredictable Vanity Fair, learned while in the hospital that the circulation of the magazine has increased by nearly 50 percent since she took over in January 1984.

Evans, who is also editor in chief of Atlantic Monthly Press, also owned by Zuckerman, said yesterday that he will be spending less time in Washington. He said he hopes to maintain an office at U.S. News and continue writing the back-page editorial of the magazine on alternating weeks. "My principal task was the magazine redesign," he explained yesterday. "Now that that is completed, I'll be there somewhat less." End Notes

Former president Richard Nixon was released from the Miami Heart Institute yesterday, where he had been treated for a viral infection that struck him while he was vacationing in the Bahamas. The 73-year-old Nixon, bundled up in the unusual Florida cold, was accompanied by his wife Pat and a Secret Service contingent when he left to return home to New York . . .

Muhammad Ali avoided an embarrassing court battle over child support with his second wife Aaisha Ali by agreeing to set up a $200,000 trust fund to care for the needs of his 11-year-old daughter Kalilah for the next 10 years. He also agreed to pay Kalilah's medical insurance . . .

The Screen Directors Guild has nominated nearly everyone's favorite, John Huston, for best directorial achievement for "Prizzi's Honor." Other nominees are: Sidney Pollack, "Out of Africa"; Steven Spielberg, "The Color Purple"; Ron Howard, "Cocoon"; and Peter Weir, "Witness" . . .