NASA Team Heads to Chile to Help Trapped Miners
A team of NASA physicians and engineers are heading to Chile this week to provide assistance to a group of 33 miners who are trapped underground awaiting rescue. Michael Duncan, pictured above, is one of the four team members traveling to Chile. Duncan is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Credit: NASA TV

A four-person team from NASA is heading to Chile this week to provide assistance in the attempted rescue of 33 trapped miners.

The two physicians, one psychologist and one engineer from the U.S. space agency plan to provide nutritional and psychological support for the miners, who have been trapped 2,300 feet (700 meters) below the Earth's surface since Aug. 5.

"NASA is providing advice," said one of the team members, deputy chief medical officer Michael Duncan, in a NASA TV broadcast. "Our plan is to go down and provide the advice that the Chileans have requested in the areas of nutritional support and behavioral health support."

Duncan, of the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the other team members are expected to hold a news conference Tuesday in Chile's capital, Santiago, NASA spokesman William Jeffs told SPACE.com. [Graphic: Perils of Underground Mining]

Last week the Chilean government requested advice from NASA on how the miners can cope with the tough physical and psychological conditions as they wait for rescuers to reach their cavern, an effort that could take four months.

After the small gold and copper mine in northern Chile collapsed, rescuers were able to dig a 6-inch-wide tunnel to make contact with the trapped miners. But the rescue mission involves drilling a 2-foot-wide (0.6-meter) tunnel through 2,200 feet (670 meters) of solid rock.

For advice, Chilean officials called upon NASA, which routinely trains astronauts for the isolation of months-long International Space Station missions.

"NASA has had a long experience in dealing with isolated environments," Duncan said. "We train and plan contingencies for emergencies and we also have experience in other analog environments ? undersea environments, and some dealings with our Antarctica analog as well."

Although NASA does not have training programs for the exact conditions facing the Chilean miners, what it has learned can still apply, said Duncan.

"Environments may well be different, but human response ? both in physiology and behavior responses to emergencies ? is quite similar," he explained. "So we think that some of the things we've learned in research or in operations can be applicable to the miners that are trapped underground."