A Soviet TM-7 spacecraft with two Soviet cosmonauts and one Frenchman aboard lifted off Saturday, watched by French President Francois Mitterrand.
The launch was shown live on Soviet television. Mitterrand, who had been meeting with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in Moscow, flew in for the launch, accompanied by his wife, Danielle, and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
The French president watched through binoculars as the spacecraft--with a blinding white flare from its booster rocket lighting up the surrounding landscape--slowly rose from the launch pad and accelerated into the night sky.
The official Soviet news agency Tass later reported that the spacecraft had separated from its booster and had been successfully placed into orbit.
Month Aboard Mir
French cosmonaut Jean-Loup Chretien, one of several foreigners to take part in Soviet space missions, will spend nearly a month aboard the orbiting space station Mir.
Chretien, who spent a week in space in 1983 aboard a Soviet TM-6 spacecraft, will become the first West European to perform a space walk when he fits an expanding antenna platform to the space station in a planned six-hour operation.
He will be assisted in that task by his two crew mates, mission commander Alexander Volkov, an experienced cosmonaut who spent 65 days in space in 1985, and flight engineer Sergei Krikalyov, making his first space flight.
Volkov and Krikalyov will remain aboard Mir until April, taking over the space station from its current crew, Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov, who will return to Earth with Chretien on Dec. 21 after completing a record yearlong mission.
Two weeks ago, Titov and Manarov broke the 326-day space endurance record set by Yuri Romanenko, the previous commander of the permanently staffed space station, who returned to earth in December, 1987.
The TM-7 is due to dock with Mir on Monday evening after gradually moving into a higher orbit to catch up with the space station.
Mitterrand was to fly home from Baikonur after the launch. He arrived at the launch site in Soviet Kazakhstan on Friday, flying aboard his Concorde aircraft.
Earlier in the day, he had a final meeting with Gorbachev. Tass said both had expressed satisfaction "that their positions on many issues coincided."