NASA tapped to help save miners

Thursday - 9/2/2010, 9:40am EDT

Michael Curie, spokesman, NASA

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Fear, stress, isolation and depression are a few of the psychological challenges faced by astronauts while in space. Many of those same issues are now being faced by 33 Chilean miners trapped more than 2,000 feet below the surface of the earth.

So Chile has asked NASA to share some lessons learned.

Spokesman Michael Curie told the Federal Drive Chile "suggested that possibly the research that NASA has conducted over the years in terms of planning for emergencies in human space flight, protecting humans in the hostile environment of space, and indeed coping with psychological withdrawl from families for long-duration crew members who have spent six months at a time on the International Space Station might be relevant."

A NASA team, made up of a doctor, nutritionist, an engineer and psychologist are at the mine now to share nutrition and behavioral health advice.

With stress, said Curie, it's "natural that you're going to have physiological effects and one of the things that the NASA doctors can consult with the Chilean experts on is nutrition. We've learned a lot about the proper balance of diet and what works for individuals in that environment."

For example, in addition to increasing their vitamin D intake to make up for a lack of being exposed to sunshine, according to a CNN report, the "Chilean staple of beans will not be sent to the men because of the possibility of giving them intestinal gas." Considerations that may not have occurred to nutritionists otherwise.

Curie told Federal News Radio NASA tries to take lessons learned from every experience they can.

"I don't recall anything quite like this before, but it is something that is within our area of expertise with all the research that we've learned. We've now been flying the International Space Station... It will be 10 years of permanent human occupancy in November."

In that time, said Curie, 25 crews have been there, for the most part spending 6 months at a time. When they returned, NASA debriefed each crew and talked with them about their experiences and "we've learned ways that we can improve their health and their psychological attitude while they're in space. We always stand by to help when needed."

The men have been trapped since August 5th. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said Wednesday he hopes the miners will be home by Christmas.