NASA Provides Assistance to Trapped Chilean Miners

NOTE: Update added 10-29-2010

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.

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.

Related Links:

UPDATE 10-29-2010

President Obama and NASA Administrator Bolden Recognize Employees for Roles in Chilean Miner Rescue

President Barack Obama welcomed NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and a NASA team that assisted trapped Chilean miners to the Oval Office on Thursday for a ceremony that recognized Americans involved in the rescue.
After the White House event, Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver presented NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal to five agency employees who supported the rescue effort. The NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal is awarded for a significant, specific accomplishment or substantial improvement in operations, efficiency, service, financial savings, science, or technology that contributes to NASA’s mission.
“We’re greatly honored by the president’s recognition of these extraordinary NASA employees who assisted the Chilean miners,” Bolden said. “I’m sure they would be the first to tell you they were just doing their jobs and nothing out of the ordinary, but the men and women of NASA do extraordinary things each and every day.”
The medal recipients are:
–       Dr. Michael Duncan, deputy chief medical officer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and team leader
–       Dr. Albert Holland, operational psychologist at Johnson
–       Dr. James Polk, medical officer at Johnson
–       Clint Cragg, principal engineer for the NASA Engineering and Safety Center at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
–       Albert Condes, deputy associate administrator of the Office of International and Interagency Affairs at NASA Headquarters in Washington

The employees from Johnson and Langley traveled to Chile Aug. 30 – Sept. 5 and visited the mine after discussions between the Chilean government and Condes. The team consulted with a number of organizations in Chile, including the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Mining, the Chilean Navy and the Chilean Space Agency.
NASA provided technical advice to the Chilean government based on the agency’s long experience in protecting humans in the hostile environment of space. NASA’s initial support included recommendations on medical care, nutrition and psychological support. The request for later NASA support was broadened to include recommendations on the design of a Chilean vehicle used to extract the miners. Consultations continued between members of the NASA team and Chilean government officials until the miners were rescued.