July 22, 2009
Twin Ports newsman to watch Russian space
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
“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
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.