A huge Australian-made “Strat 950” excavator will first drill a 33cm diameter hole down to the miners, which will then be enlarged to between 60 and 70cm – wide enough to raise the men one by one in a rescue capsule.
At present, essential supplies are being sent down to the men in small capsules 4 inches (10cm) wide and 60 inches (150cm) long, via three narrow shafts.
Initial physical problems to overcome are making sure the men take onboard enough calories, nutrients and liquids to remain healthy in the dark conditions where temperatures average around 32 degrees Celcius, and humidity is high.
Quick-dry clothing has been sent down to try and combat the skin fungal conditions from which some of the men have been suffering due to the moisture, and mats supplied also for sleep, to protect from the damp ground.
Luckily, one of the trapped men has some medical training and has been able to give his fellow miners vaccinations against tetanus, with flu vaccinations expected to be sent down later in the week.
The physical implications of their entrapment are more obvious and so easier to try and remedy. The mental implications, however, of being entombed in the dark so far below ground for such a period of time are immeasurable.
NASA experts are due to arrive at the mine this week at the request of the Chilean authorities. The team will include a doctor, nutritionist, engineer and a psychologist, all of whom will hopefully be able to adapt some of the lessons learnt from astronaut research and operations in Space, to help the miners trapped beneath the Earth.