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Chile, NASA in talks to rescue miners

Image grab of Omar Orlando Reygada Rojas (L), one of the 33 trapped miners at the San Jose gold and copper mine in Copiapo, 800 km north of Santiago, taken from a video released on August 26, 2010 by Chile's Mining Ministry. The video footage from deep in the mine shows the trapped men in good spirits, as their families filed the first of potentially many lawsuits against the shaft owner. Excerpts of the 45-minute video showed the men upbeat despite their 21-day ordeal in a hot and dank underground shelter, where they await a potentially months-long rescue. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Washington (UPI) Aug 26, 2010
Chilean and NASA officials are in talks on how best to use the space agency's expertise and technology to sustain and rescue 33 miners trapped underground, the U.S. State Department said Thursday.

Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley told reporters the dialogue was continuing to exchange information on knowledge gained in space that could be applied to rescue the miners, trapped about 2,300 feet underground for 19 days.

"We recognize that Chile has world-class expertise in mining issues," Crowley said, "but there is a dialogue going on between Chile's ministry of health and NASA where we have a great deal of experience regarding medical, nutritional and behavioral issues related to the space travel that we have done for decades."

He said U.S. experts were "providing that perspective to Chile so it can develop a program for helping to sustain these miners in the coming weeks and months before they can be rescued."

Rescue for the miners is seen by experts as a long haul because of the complex conditions since the shaft collapsed around the men. After the mishap the miners managed to reach an underground refuge "the size of a one-bedroom flat" in the copper and gold mine in San Jose, Atacama.

Chilean authorities have been checking the miners' condition regularly and told the media the last reports confirmed all 33 were alive under the tons of the collapsed shaft's debris.

Rescue officials said they asked for NASA assistance because conditions inside the mine were similar to those faced by submarine crews and astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Rescue teams used a 15-centimeter diameter hole to the collapsed shaft and the miners' refuge to send down food, drink and oxygen.

Chile asked NASA for specific food rations to keep the miners in good health while a carefully planned long-haul rescue effort went under way. Officials said the rescue operation could take 4 months.

In a telephone contact earlier in the week the miners said they were all in good health but hungry as they had only about two mouthfuls of tuna and half a cup of milk every 24 hours.

Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne said the miners requested food, toothbrushes and eye ointment. Some of the men reported suffering stomach cramps, he said.

Rescue workers are planning to drill a 66-centimeter hole to reach the miners.

A judge Thursday ordered a freeze on $1.8 million in revenue from the mine, to be set aside for future compensation to the men.

The local judge in Copiapo, close to the mine, was responding to a petition from the families of the miners. The money represents part of the revenue the mining company was to receive in the next few days from Chile's government for the sale of copper, officials said.

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