Melissa Meng
Melissa Meng
Elementary School First Place Winner: 2011 Engineering & Human Service - Relief from a Disaster Essay Contest
Gilbert Linkous Elementary School
The Rescue Capsule Used for Rescuing Trapped Chilean Miners

On October 12, 2010, my family and I sat in front of the TV watching the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped in the mine for 69 days. The successful rescue of the miners is the results of teamwork and engineering high-technology. The capsule used in the rescue is fascinating to me, and I was very curious about how it was designed. Therefore, I did a little bit of research on it, and below is what I have found. 

The capsules were constructed by a team of Chilean engineers and NASA consultants (1). The Chilean navy engineers named the rescue capsule “Fénix” for the mythical bird that rises from ashes (2). They painted the capsule in the white, blue and red colors of the Chilean flag. I thought the name of the capsule and its color really symbolizes this rescue mission.

The rescue capsule looks like a missile that fits tightly into a tunnel that was drilled by the rescue workers. Initially, three prototypes were designed, and named Fénix 1, 2, and 3.  Fénix 2, which weighs 924 pounds and 13 feet long, with an interior height of 6 feet 4 inches and a diameter of 21 inches, was the one used in the actual rescue (2-4).  Fénix 2 was raised up by a pulley attached to a crane, and was slowly lowered into the 2,300 feet tunnel to carry the miners up for safety (3).

I thought the engineering design of the Fénix 2 is very creative.  It has 8 retractable wheels to protect it from rubbing against rock as it moves up and down the tunnel hole (3). The rescue cage is made of steel mesh and contains a reinforced roof to protect against any debris that may be dislodged during the trip. A loose-fitting harness is installed to secure the miner in case the miner loses consciousness during the trip. The bottom of the capsule holds three tanks of compressed air, which is enough for about 90 minutes of breathing, even though the journey takes only about 15-20 minutes (5).  A two-way radio and camera system were built inside the capsule so that the miners can communicate with the rescue crew.  The capsule also includes an escape hatch that the miner can use to lower himself back to the underground in case the capsule gets stuck in the tunnel (6).  In preparation for the rescue, the miners were given a high-calorie liquid diet donated by NASA to prevent them from vomiting as the capsule rotates 10-12 times through the tunnel (7).  The vital signs of the miners are constantly measured through a biomonitor around their abdomens (7).

I am very happy that all 33 miners survived and were rescued.  I think the main reason that the rescue is so successful is because of the creative engineering designs of the high-tech rescue capsule, without it the rescue would not have been possible.

1. NASA Provides Assistance to Trapped Chilean Miners,
2. Fenix capsules,énix_capsules
3. Rescue cage arrives at Chile mine, By Karl Penhaul,
4. Engineering the Chilean Miners’ Rescue, By Beth Goodbaum,
5. Chile’s trapped miners: rescue capsule arrives at San Jose mine,
6. Rescue Capsule for Chile Miners Only 21ins Wide,
7. Chilean miners rescue: escape capsule begins rescue of trapped men, By Michael Warren,