Denfeld News

July 22, 2009
Duluth News Tribune

Twin Ports newsman to watch Russian space launch
By Candace Renalls

When a Northland astronaut blasts off in a Russian Soyuz rocket Sept. 30 from Kazakhstan, a Twin Ports newsman will be there.

Mike Simonson of Wisconsin Public Radio was invited to witness the launch as one of astronaut Jeffrey Williams’ 13 guests. Other than NASA personnel, few other Americans are expected to be there. Simonson and his wife, Jennifer, will travel to Moscow at their own expense, but the newsman in Simonson won’t let him stop there.

“I’m absolutely going to be filing reports from there,” said Simonson, who is news director of KUWS-FM, the WPR affiliate in Superior. With a nine-hour time difference, his reports will either be same-day or live, he said.

After the Sept. 30 launch, Col. Williams and cosmonaut Maxim Suraev will dock with the International Space Station on Oct. 2, where they’ll spend six months orbiting Earth and finishing work on the space station. Williams’ duties will include flight engineer. After the station is complete in 2010, it will become a base for trips to the moon and possibly Mars.

“This is one of the current frontiers of exploration and it represents both literally and figuratively our future, the future of humankind, certainly the future of our country,” Williams said.

For Williams, 51, who grew up on a farm in Winter, Wis., the mission will be his third trip into space.

The Simonsons plan to arrive in Moscow on Sept. 25, see the launch at the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan, view the docking two days later at Moscow Mission Control Center and return home Oct. 6 after spending a couple of days in Moscow.

Chances of a delayed launch are slim.

“Soyuz flies regardless of the weather,” Simonson said. “It’s different from the shuttle, which is more vulnerable to weather and winds. We’re told it will go in any situation.”

Seeing it as a chance of a lifetime, Simonson couldn’t resist going, despite the $10,000 it will cost him and his wife and the mounds of paperwork involved. With Wisconsin Public Radio’s tight budgets, he’s not even asking for any of his costs to be covered, he said.

“This is something I really wanted to do,” he said.

The upcoming launch will be at the once-secret Baikonar space center where Sputnik — the world’s first artificial satellite — was launched. That event also launched the space age in 1957, the year Simonson was born. When Simonson was growing up in the 1960s, the Apollo moon missions sparked his interest in the space program. In 1988, he was excited to cover the space shuttle launch from Cape Canaveral.

“That was incredible,” he said.

Since 2001, Simsonson has been covering Williams’ story: a farmboy from Sawyer County who grows up to become an astronaut.

“And to be able to tell it to people on Wisconsin Public Radio — what a thrill,” he said.

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