The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration may help organize astronauts and celebrities to entertain 33 miners trapped in a mine in Chile during a rescue that may take as much as four months.
The miners, who have been trapped in the San Jose underground mine in the Atacama Desert for a record 26 days, have already received messages of support from Chilean soccer star Ivan Zamorano and the national coach Marcelo Bielsa and have spoken on the phone with President Sebastian Pinera.
“As we progress through in the coming weeks and months there might be an opportunity to have others make contact with the miners,” James Duncan, deputy chief medical officer at the Johnson Space Center, told reporters in Santiago today. They may include famous Chileans or NASA astronauts, he said.
Rescue teams began drilling last night a hole big enough to lift the miners out of tunnels where temperatures exceed 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), Pinera said today in televised remarks. The rescue effort may be shortened to two months from an original estimate of four, Walter Herrera, whose company is installing the drilling machine to bore a second tunnel, said Aug. 28.
The miners, caught about 700 meters (2,300 feet) underground, have captured the world’s attention with their courage, mental strength and organizational skills, said Duncan. The NASA delegation will provide rescuers with advice on how to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing using experiences in isolated environments, he said.
“What we want to try to avoid is any kind of situation of hopelessness on the part of the miners and all the interactions so far in trying to provide them with food and water and contact with families and working with organizational structure is all working toward trying to keep their spirits up,” Duncan said.
There haven’t been any reports of conflicts among the trapped miners yet, Health Minister Jaime Manalich told reporters today.
English soccer club Liverpool will donate the miners a replica shirt signed by their players which include Spanish World Cup champion Fernando Torres. In their Sept. 5 game against West Bromwich Albion, where Chilean soccer player Gonzalo Jara plays, the players will read out a message to fans before the game, according to the U.K. Embassy in Chile.
The mine’s owners Marcelo Kemeny and Alejandro Bohn apologized in congress today in testimony that was broadcast live on television in the South American country. They said they would put as much as money as possible towards paying workers and their creditors after deciding to shut the mine.
The NASA delegation is in Chile until Sep. 4. Others on the team, also from the Johnson Space Center, are operational psychologist Albert Holland, space medicine division chief J.D. Polk and engineer Clint Cragg, according to the Chilean health ministry.