After 10 weeks in a dark, hot purgatory 2,000 feet underground, the first of 33 trapped miners were hoisted to freedom early Wednesday, Oct. 13, a rescue marking the beginning of the end of a drama that captivated people worldwide. As they emerged, the miners jubilantly embracing wives, children and rescuers and looked remarkably composed after languishing for 69 days in the depths of a mine that easily could have been their tomb.
On Aug. 5, the San José copper and gold mine near the northern town of Copiapó, Chile, collapsed, trapping 33 miners about a half mile underground. The Chilean government spoke with the United States Department of State to request NASA's technical advice related to the agency's life sciences research activities.
On Aug. 31, a NASA team of experts arrived in Santiago as part of NASA's commitment to provide U.S. assistance. NASA's assistance is only a small contribution to the Chilean government's overall rescue effort. On Sept. 1, the team began three days’ worth of meetings in Copiapó.
The NASA team includes two medical doctors, a psychologist and an engineer. Dr. Michael Duncan, deputy chief medical officer in NASA's Space Life Sciences Directorate at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, led the team. The other team members are physician J.D. Polk, psychologist Al Holland and engineer Clint Cragg.
NASA's long experience in training and planning for emergencies in human spaceflight and its protection of humans in the hostile environment of space may have some direct benefits that can be useful to the rescue. Environments may very well be different, but human response both in physiology and behavioral responses to emergencies is quite similar. Some of the results acquired through NASA's research may be applicable to the trapped miners.