By Michael Mihalisko and Julie Moffett
Washington, 20 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - The U.S. space shuttle Columbia, with Ukrainian astronaut Leonid Kadenyuk aboard, lifted off yesterday from the Kennedy Space Center in the southern state of Florida.
Despite a last minute problem with a hatch and concerns about the cloudy weather, the shuttle lifted off exactly as scheduled.
Approximately six minutes into the flight, Columbia's pilot successfully performed a 180-degree roll to align the shuttle's antennas with an orbiting relay station. NASA hopes the maneuver will permit the closing of a tracking station in Bermuda, saving the agency about $5 million annually.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma attended the launch and is scheduled to take part today in an international pledging conference on the Chornobyl nuclear power plant.
Our correspondent at Cape Canaveral in Florida says Ukrainian officials confirmed that Kuchma was to have a two- hour meeting in New York today with U.S. Vice President Al Gore who is also scheduled to attend the conference.