Last week the Mid-Atlantic section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) hosted a very special lecture at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. Clinton H Cragg, a 1987 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, began working for NASA in 2003 as a founding member of the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC). NESC is comprised of a small group of people from an eclectic mix of educational backgrounds who tackle some of NASA’s toughest challenges. Cragg had extensive experience in leading these engineering teams to solving difficult challenges, so when he was called upon to assist in the rescue of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped approximately 700 meters below solid rock, he was up for the challenge.
Cragg was selected as a member of the four-person NASA team sent to assist in the rescue of the Chilean miners who were caught in the San Jose Mine (Mina San Jose) collapse on August 5, 2010. NASA was asked by the Chilean Government to provide assistance once the miners were discovered to be alive on August 22, 2010. NASA leveraged their expertise in human survival in harsh environments and in engineering requirements development to assist in the evaluation of the psychological effects, bore hole plans, and rescue capsule development.
Cragg discussed his experience in Chile and the contributions of NASA during his presentation. He explained how the other three team members were medical professionals and they peer reviewed all medical and psychological actions taken while the miners were trapped underground. NASA also recommended that the miners exercised daily, received media training (since many of them had never been interviewed or on camera and there were countless media members awaiting their return to the surface), and that there was a post-evacuation medical setup including helicopter pads. NASA encouraged more detailed requirements for the rescue capsule design and recommended that each miner be provided with sunglasses for their resurfacing since they had not been exposed to UV light in months. Some of the specific capsule recommendations included that each miner should be able to secure himself within the capsule, hand holds should be implemented, and the design should account for friction between the capsule and the bore hole. By leveraging the design requirements provided by NASA, the capsule was designed, constructed, and delivered on September 25, 2010.
“Those miners survived seventeen days on about two days of rations (before they were discovered to be alive) – they would not have survived much longer,” said Cragg. Although the team was primarily there to provide engineering and medical support, they also had the opportunity to meet the families of the trapped miners and assure them that everyone was doing all that they could to bring their loved ones home safely. During the introduction of Cragg, the speaker noted: “NASA has contributed in the fields of biomedicine, materials science, and communication products. There is great justification in putting funding into NASA.” Undoubtedly the families and friends of those 33 trapped miners who were safely brought to the surface would agree.