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October 12, 2010

Chilean Mine Rescue Getting Underway

33 men underground for 69 days.

Video stream here.

The capsule is being sent down now with a medic in it.

I'm not claustrophobic but watching this is giving me the creeps. It's dark, narrow (like 28 inches wide) and the cage will spin and deflect off center since it's not a straight shot.

It's about a 30 minute trip down over a half a mile underground. Once he's down there he will evaluate the miners and decide the order in which they will come up.

The miners were to be closely monitored from the moment they're strapped into the claustrophobic steel tube to be hauled up the smooth-walled tunnel. They were given a special high-calorie liquid diet prepared and donated by NASA, designed to keep them from vomiting as the rescue capsule rotates 10 to 12 times through curves in the 28-inch-diameter escape hole.

Engineers inserted steel piping at the top of the shaft. They stopped short of initial plans for the sleeve after it became jammed during a probe of the curved top of the hole, which is angled 11 degrees off vertical at its top before plunging like a waterfall. Drillers had to curve the shaft so that it would pass through "virgin" rock, narrowly avoiding collapsed areas and underground open spaces in the overexploited mine, which had operated since 1885.

A small video camera is in the escape capsule, trained on each miner's face for panic attacks. The miners will wear oxygen masks and have two-way voice communication.

Their pulse, skin temperature and respiration rate will be constantly measured through a biomonitor around their abdomens. To prevent blood clotting from the quick ascent, they took aspirin and will wear compression socks.

The miners will also wear sweaters because they'll experience a shift in climate from about 90 degrees Fahrenheit underground to temperatures hovering near freezing after night falls. Those coming out during daylight hours will wear sunglasses.

Seconds before each miner surfaces, an ambulance-like siren will sound and a light will flash for a full minute. Officials are calling this the Genesis alarm, meant simply to alert doctors that a miner is arriving.

I spent some time in Chile a few years ago and love the place. The people I met were wonderful and uniformly very pro-American. Chileans very much want to be thought of as a serious country and a good partner to major nations.

In addition, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera consciously internationalized the rescue effort. The powerful cable that will pull the Phoenix was made in Germany. The ultra-flexible fiber-optic line the miners use to communicate with rescuers was made in Japan. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration provided design requirements for the capsule. Technology or laborers from Canada, Australia and the U.S. were involved in drilling three shafts that could be used to extract the men. Jeff Hart, the 40-year-old drill operator from Denver who ran the rig that was the first to break through to the miners last Saturday, has quickly become a folk hero in Chile.

They are going to be very proud of what they've accomplished in this rescue. I imagine lots of partying (Chileans love to party) will follow this rescue.

Don't forget Chile also suffered from a major earthquake earlier this year. Their free market economy weathered that disaster rather well.

Seriously, it's a great place. If you are looking for a place to get warm in the winter (they are on opposite seasons), consider Chile.

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posted by DrewM. at 10:27 PM

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