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NASA sends experts to help Chile miners

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Aug 30, 2010
A team of NASA doctors and scientists will travel to Chile this week to lend its expertise to efforts to keep 33 trapped miners fit and healthy, the US space agency said Monday.

The Chilean government had asked NASA to provide technical advice that might assist the trapped miners at the San Jose gold and copper mine near the town of Copiapo.

NASA's expert knowledge of how astronauts deal mentally and physically with arduous space journeys could help the miners cope for months in their dark, cramped underground world.

"The environment may be different, but the human response in physiology, behavior, responses to emergencies is quite similar," said NASA deputy chief medical officer Michael Duncan, one of the four-strong team.

"We think that some of the things we learned in research and operation can be adaptable to the miners who are trapped under the ground."

Duncan said the mission was, "an opportunity for us to bring our space flight experience back down to the ground."

He will be accompanied to the disaster scene by a NASA engineer, a psychologist and a second medical doctor.

Engineers expect it will take between three and four months to drill an escape tunnel to free the miners, who have been trapped inside the mine since a cave-in on August 5.

The miners have developed fungal infections and body sores from the hot, dank conditions and officials say some are suffering from depression.

Duncan praised the operations at the mine, where equipment and supplies are being sent down via narrow shafts and a radio system has been rigged up so loved ones can keep the workers upbeat.

"The Chileans are very well organized down there. They have a lot of resources at their disposal," he said. "They have done a lot for the miners, and in fact the miners have done a lot for themselves underground."

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