This story was updated at 4:44 p.m. ET.
NASAofficials hailed the successful rescue of 33 Chilean miners who were trappeddeep underground for more than two months and got their first breath of freshair today (Oct. 13).
Theminers were trapped 2,200 feet(670 meters) underground for 69 days when part of the San Jose mine, a gold andcopper mine, collapsed Aug. 5. Today, rescue workers began hoisting the minersout of the earthen prison using a special one-man capsule that was loweredthrough a half-mile long shaft.
Early in the crisis, NASA sent an envoy of two doctors, a psychologist and anengineer to help assist in planning efforts to maintain the miners' health,nutrition and psychological well-being during their prolonged ordeal.
"Fordecades, the people of this agency have learned to live, work, and survive inthe hostile environment of space," NASA chief Charles Bolden said in astatement released today. "Our expertise in maintaining physiological andpsychological health, and our technical and engineering experience inspacecraft design all proved to be valuable in a situation that is far from ourtraditional scope of work."
Theagency drew on its extensive experience working with astronauts on six-monthmissions to the International Space Station.
?TheChileans had a very limited set of requirements that they had given their ownengineers with regards to how to design this cage, and that was primarilylength, diameter, and weight,? said Michael Duncan, NASA's deputy chief medicalofficer of space life sciences, who led the team of experts, in a statement.
Japan's space agency also contributed space underwear for the Chile miners, according to news reports. Five sets of the space undergarments, which were developed for use on the space station, were given to each miner to help improve their living conditions while underground. The space clothing is designed for comfort and to reduce odors while worn over extended periods.
Thereare still medical concerns forthe Chilean minersnow that they are back on the surface.
Theminers face a number of risks, from sunburned eyes after monthsunderground to fungal infections and post-traumatic stress, experts have said.[Graphic: Perils ofUnderground Mining]
Inaddition to health advice, NASA also used its spacecraft expertise to providetips to the designers of the rescue capsule, said Duncan, who is based atNASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
"Lookingat the video of the cage, some of these things they?ve certainly incorporatedinto their design," he added.
Bolden lauded the success of Chilean rescue workers andofficials after nearly two months of recovery efforts to return the trappedminers to the surface.
"Onbehalf of the entire NASA family, I want to ask that our heartfelt thoughts andprayers continue to go out to the courageous miners, their families andfriends, and the dedicated people who have been working to safely reach thosewho are still trapped underground," Bolden said in a statement. "There is a lot of hard work ahead for rescuers, but theChilean government and the people of that great nation should be praised fortheir steadfast determination. Their unwavering commitment is the reason we arewitness to the joyful and emotional reunions today as the miners are returnedto the surface one-by-one."
Boldenalso said he was proud of the space agency representatives who contributed tothe rescue effort, and prayed for the safety and health of the miners duringtheir recovery.