Inner Space | Outer Space

A deep gut-wrenching rumble means collapse somewhere in the tunnel of the mine. It is a sound everyone fears. You are alive, but trapped, with no means of escape. You are one of 33 miners sealed 700 meters (2,300 ft) underground.

Thus began the  journey of the miners in the Chilean mining accident in the afternoon of 5 August 2010. The 120+ year old San Jose mine is in the remote Atacama desert of northern Chile.

NASA Earth Observatory | Created by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon


After 69 days, the 33 miners were all rescued. Large numbers of people watched daily as the rescue efforts unfolded in eventual success. Their story is told in the November 2015 release of a new movie titled The 33.

You might be wondering how outer space is connected to this story of being trapped in a deep hole of inner space. Many countries offered various forms of assistance. The United States gave valuable help through NASA. The highlights are described below.


Inner Space Location

This schematic diagram shows where the miners were in shelter, well below the collapses. The link below the diagram is to the online multimedia source in Spanish if you want to see more details. Several drill shafts were made. The first were 6 inch diameter bore holes. After 17 days, one of those cut into the area near the miners. It was used to lower foods, communication lines, messages, etc. The miners heard the drilling and prepared a note which they attached to the drill. The message was found when the drill was raised. It said all 33 were alive and waiting for help.

Latercera Multimedia |


The long process of rescue gained renewed vigor. A larger tube was needed, large enough to pass a rescue cage with a person fitted tightly inside. Drilling efforts were slow. On the eighth attempt, a tube reached their shelter area from one of the blue rigs in the diagram above.


Outer Space Connection

NASA has great experience in survival under harsh and life threatening conditions. They know the challenges of maintaining mental and physical health in long term isolated environments. The 33 were certainly facing threatening conditions. NASA fielded a team of doctors, nutritionists, and engineers to meet with the Chilean and mining officials. The team made suggestions to optimize the chances that every miner would survive the long wait whenever that might occur.

Medical advice:

  • Replace Vitamin D due to lack of direct sunlight.
  • Exercise to prepare for the stress of the rescue mission.
  • Include proper caloric intake, proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
  • Keep sleep schedules to help mood and social interactions.
  • Wear eye protection for their return to the surface.
  • Wear sweaters and jackets during ascent to the cold surface.
  • Stay hydrated with salts and electrolytes especially during rescue.

Psychological advice:

  • Limit media access during and after this difficult time.
  • Help the miners cope with isolation from the outside world.
  • Counsel the families before and after the rescue.
  • Communicate with friends and family regularly.
  • Manage tensions of the group confined to their small space.

NASA engineers worked with the Chilean navy and made 75 suggestions for the rescue capsule. Most of them were used. The capsule held a single miner. It was 13 feet long (4 m) and weighed 926 pounds (420 kg). A single miner could get in and secured himself without assistance.

The capsule had exterior rollers and a bottom trap door to allow emergency escape if it got stuck half way. The miner could then rappel back down. A second capsule was made so teams could study problems that might occur during the rescue.

Public Domain | Wikimedia

Engineers advised an oxygen tank, an audio/video feed, and medical probes for vital signs during the rescue. The system worked flawlessly as it made multiple trips to the surface. Here is a picture of a test run.

Hugo Infante | Government of Chile


This is just one of many ways in which NASA works toward the benefit of humanity. It is a valuable organization.


13 thoughts on “Inner Space | Outer Space

  1. Very interesting. As a submariner I never felt claustrophobic but this story does!

    The exercise program seems like a great idea, not so much for the practicality of rescue as for the psychological benefit of having a project while waiting.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I well remember this. A blogging friend who lives in Chile was in the area at the time, and provided a lot of local photos to go with the reports. There were some very interesting stories of how the lives of the rescued developed after the fact, too.

    Another story of space/earth parallels was the use of the remotely-operated vehicles, during the capping of the Macondo well. A lot of people at Oceaneering & etc. were involved — the ones who spend most of their time working with EVAs on the space station and such.

    That didn’t end so well, of course, but one of the most touching videos I’ve ever seen was this one of the final capping. I know I’ve posted it somewhere, so you may have seen it, but it’s still worth another look.


  3. I remember watching this in the media. This was a stunning rescue. The list of advice for the welfare of the miners as they waited is very good reading. I will pass this post on – it is great to read something so heartening. People offering advice and help and most of all people accepting it and working with it. Putting aside pride and working together is hard to do, but essential.


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