Paul E. Cotton, 52, a planning and research officer for the National aeronautics and Space Administration here, died of cancer Thursday at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.

Mr. Cotton joined NASAin 1958 and held a number of executive positions before becoming a planning and research officer this year. He received NASA's Exceptional Service Medal and superior achievement and outstanding performance awards for his contribution to aeronautics and space research and development.

Before joining NASA, he had a private law practice in Bethesda and was a consultant to the Commission on Government Security in Washington.

From 1972 to 1975 he was deputy director of the Bureau of Supplemental Security for the Social Security Administration in Baltimore.

Mr. Cotton was born in Washington and graduated from Gonzaga High School.He earned bachelor's and law degrees from Georgetown University and a master's degree in the Advance Management Program at Harvard Business School.

He had served in the Air Force.

Survivors include his wife, the former Rosemary Miller, two sons, Paul E. (Chip) Jr. and Timothy, and two daughters, Noreen and Kristin, all of the home in Potomac; his mother, Irene Cotton of Washington, and two brothers, James, of Springfield, and Richard, of Burbank, Calif.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to Gonzaga High School in Washington.