Contrary to a report Monday, the American Astronautical Society sponsored a conference on "Star Wars" last summer "in conjunction with" the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization of the Defense Department, which was not an official sponsor or cosponsor of the conference, the society said yesterday.

The party at the Geneva residence of former Texas senator John Tower ran almost 90 minutes later than planned. The Republican former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, an outspoken critic of communism, was entertaining Soviet Ambassador Viktor Karpov, his opposite number on the strategic nuclear weapons panel of the arms talks, along with several of his colleagues.

The Soviet diplomats were relaxed and having too good a time to leave, according to authoritative accounts.

The accounts of the party at Tower's residence and other insights offered by informed sources here and in Washington provide a snapshot of the personal side of the often grim, impersonal business of the Geneva talks. They illustrate the process and the personalities -- the private lunches and discreet conversations, even the discussions of what time in the morning to hold a meeting -- that play a role in determining the success or failure of these complex negotiations.

For example, two days earlier, the relationship between Tower and Karpov had not been so good. Tower had complained to Karpov after reading a front-page story in the International Herald Tribune under the headline: "Soviet Accuses U.S. of Failing to Reply Positively on Arms."

Tower said the Soviet diplomat had taken an unfair shot at the United States because his statement came before Karpov had even finished delivering Moscow's proposal. Furthermore, the story appeared to violate the agreement on confidentiality that bars negotiators from discussing substantive details of their sessions in public and particularly with the press.

Karpov responded that he had been misquoted, and that, in effect, his words were taken out of context. The transcript of his unusual session with reporters Oct. 1 shows that when asked directly about a U.S. reaction to the first day of his presentation, Karpov responded that it was "premature" for the Americans to respond since he would be "introducing more" proposals in the coming meeting.

It was only after being pressed about reports from Washington describing the Soviet package as unbalanced that Karpov defended his position and said there had not been a "positive response up to now." He then linked "progress" in Geneva to the American side changing its approach.

When Tower learned that Karpov's complaint about the press handling his statements was valid, their misunderstanding was patched up quickly.

The incident shows how closely the negotiators representing Washington and Moscow watch each other and how important, with serious deliberations just beginning, they believe it is to keep matters open and direct between them.

The chief U.S. ambassador at the talks is Max Kampelman, whose experience is in labor and business negotiations rather than in diplomacy. He reportedly believes that the personal relationships play a part but not the main one.

This view has it that the Soviet system is an impersonal one, that Moscow's main concern -- and thus Karpov's and that of his deputy, Ambassador Yuli Kvitsinsky -- is how close the U.S. representatives in Geneva are to the decision makers in Washington.

In the 1970-72 SALT I talks, the critical negotiations took place in Washington between Henry Kissinger and the Soviet ambassador to the United States, Anatoliy Dobrynin. In 1977-79, the U.S. negotiators in Geneva were considered by Washington officials and some members of Congress to be too inclined to compromise. In the end, the Carter administration was unable to get SALT II ratified.

The Soviets reportedly are impressed that Kampelman is a Democrat and is considered to have good connections on Capitol Hill. Speculation that Tower may someday replace Caspar W. Weinberger as secretary of defense adds to the stature of the Texan, already built up as someone who knows strategic nuclear weapons systems and the background of President Reagan's defense positions.

It also helps the U.S. team that the Soviets know -- because they have been told -- that Tower's deputy, Ambassador Ronald Lehman, also has retained his position as deputy to Reagan's national security adviser, Robert C. McFarlane. The personal and political connections that all three men have to Weinberger and Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard N. Perle, the gray eminence of U.S. arms policy, is also not hidden.

The lines going back to Moscow and its new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, are less clear. Karpov has continuity in the arms control arena, having participated as a middle-level expert on SALT I, a deputy and acting head of delegation during SALT II and delegation chief for the ill-fated 1981-83 strategic talks with the Reagan administration.

Karpov is an Andrei Gromyko man, and that may or may not be a good sign for his future. When Gorbachev went to Paris early this month, it was Kvitsinsky, a younger and more imaginative negotiator, who joined the leader's Moscow delegation.

Getting each side's positions, with all the nuances, back to the decision-makers in Washington and Moscow is the job of the negotiators.

For both delegations, the prime method is through papers, usually five or six pages long, that are read at plenary meetings of delegations. They are delivered in the author's language and translated a paragraph at a time.

When a reading is completed, the paper in its original language is handed to the head of the listening delegation for transmission to and translation in his home capital.

The U.S. delegation looks on these papers as the best means to get Washington's message to Moscow. Kampelman reportedly spends a great deal of time working over his presentations and has a clearing process with Tower and Ambassador Maynard W. Glitman, the experienced Foreign Service officer who heads the negotiating panel on intermediate-range forces.

Informal conversation after the papers are delivered, along with lunches, dinners and even telephone conversations between delegation members, are used to pass on or seek guidance on the meaning of what has been presented officially.

The format for presenting these papers has an 18th century quality. Both sides have specific and comparable members. For the United States there are representatives from the State and Defense departments, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, to deal with verification problems.

The Soviets have a similar breakdown, with members from their Foreign and Defense ministries, the general staff, the Academy of Sciences and the KGB, the intelligence agency.

The formal meetings alternate between the modern Soviet mission complex and the older yellow building that houses the U.S. negotiating team. One of its next-door neighbors is the Perle Institut de Beaute, a beauty parlor that wags say is the font of the Pentagon arms-control expert's inside information.

The delegation leader hosting a meeting greets the members of the incoming group as they arrive, and all line up and shake hands at the start and end of each session.

The talks' three panels have regular meeting dates each week: space on Tuesday, strategic weapons on Wednesday, intermediate weapons on Thursday. A sign of what the public would call the pettiness, and diplomats call the details, of the talks is that there is no formal agreement on the overall name and outright disagreement on panel identifications.

The Soviets up to now refer to the panel on intermediate-range weapons as dealing with "medium-range missiles in Europe" because they do not want to discuss their medium-range missiles in the central and western part of their country.

What the United States calls the "defense and space" panel -- because it wants to discuss defense -- the Soviets refer only to "space weapons," because they look on Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the so-called "Star Wars" research program, as an "offensive" system.

After a paper is read at the plenary session of a panel, the group breaks up for individual discussions. On the space panel, for example, Kampelman and his deputy, Henry F. Cooper, meet with Kvitsinsky and his number two, Soviet Maj. Gen. N. Detinov. Three other discussion groups meet: the diplomats, the military and the intelligence.

During the SALT I session, liquor was served, but since the days of Jimmy Carter, the refreshments primarily have been coffee, tea, juice, cookies and peanuts.

Kampelman has made a few changes in this practice. First, he moved his meetings from 11 a.m. to 10 a.m. He found that after an hour or more listening to papers, the participants would start getting hungry for lunch and the conversations would become rushed or tense.

Long sessions do not necessarily indicate progress. A recent five-hour space panel session was described by Karpov in a quick interview as making "no progress," a characterization known to be reflected by the Americans.