MANILA, AUG. 14 -- An Australian court today ordered a 20-year-old computer hacker from Melbourne to stand trial for allegedly breaking into U.S. nuclear research and space agency computer systems by telephone and shutting down a NASA network in Norfolk, Va., for 24 hours.

Nahshon Even-Chaim, a computer science student at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), who called himself Phoenix, was charged with 47 counts of penetrating Australian and U.S. computers and altering or deleting data, said Lisa West of the Department of Public Prosecutions in Melbourne.

In addition to allegedly shutting down a computer system of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Norfolk on Feb. 22, 1990, West said in a telephone interview, Even-Chaim is accused of gaining unauthorized access to computers of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and making unspecified "alterations to data" at the nuclear research facility.

The case is Australia's first test of "landmark legislation" passed in 1989 to deal with new computer crimes inadequately covered by previous laws, said Keith Livingston, a spokesman for the Australian Federal Police in Melbourne. He said Even-Chaim and two alleged accomplices, a fellow RMIT student and a 21-year-old computer programmer, were arrested in April 1990 for the "hacking" offenses, which were said to have been committed from February to March. The two others also face legal proceedings, Livingston said.

Australian officials said the FBI and other U.S. agencies had aided the Australian police in the case, but they declined to provide details or specify what led to the arrests.

{An FBI spokesman confirmed the cooperation but would not elaborate. Officials at NASA's Washington headquarters said they were not familiar with the case, or the alleged shutdown of the NASA computer system, but would make inquiries. A Livermore spokesman said the laboratory referred its involvement to the Department of Energy, whose spokesman, Joseph Karpinski, said, "No classified systems were compromised."}

In a U.S. case that drew wide attention last year, Robert Tappan Morris was sentenced in Syracuse, N.Y., to three years' probation, fined $10,000 and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service for having created a computer "virus" that paralyzed thousands of research computers in 1988. Estimates of the cost of "disinfection" in that and other incidents run into millions of dollars.

Computer viruses are programs that can spread rapidly through exchange of data via phones or discs, causing harm -- often deliberately -- by destroying information or clogging the computers' memories.

Individuals gaining unauthorized access to computer communications have given hackers such notoriety that specialists have formed countervailing groups, such as Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, to improve their image.

At a pretrial hearing in Melbourne today, prosecutor Richard Maidment told the Magistrate's Court that Even-Chaim used a home computer and a telephone to cause considerable mischief with his hacker pals. He said police wiretaps had recorded Even-Chaim boasting in telephone conversations of his ability to "wreak havoc" with computer systems.

One count accuses him of illegally penetrating a computer of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to gain access to a mailing list, called "Zardoz," which allegedly yielded information on computer security loopholes. The other 46 counts involve use of Australia's telephone system for hacking purposes.

Even-Chaim's lawyer, Felicity Hampel, argued that all but one of the charges should be dropped because they applied to activities outside Australia that were not in the court's jurisdiction. But Magistrate John Wilkinson rejected the arguments after two days of hearings, ordering the student to stand trial in a county court. Even-Chaim, who did not immediately enter a plea, was released on $780 bail. The trial is expected to begin within six months.

Maidment told the court that in tampering with computers of a company he identified as Execucom Systems Corp. of Austin, Tex. Even-Chaim destroyed a number of records, including the firm's only inventory of its assets. He said security efforts to counteract the hacking cost the company an estimated $21,000.

Australian police said Even-Chaim also broke into computers at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Wisconsin in Madison and Purdue in Indiana. There was no word on what, if any, damage was done there.