This story was updated at 4:44 p.m. ET.
NASA officials hailed the successful rescue of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped deep underground for more than two months and got their first breath of fresh air today (Oct. 13).
The miners were trapped 2,200 feet (670 meters) underground for 69 days when part of the San Jose mine, a gold and copper mine, collapsed Aug. 5. Today, rescue workers began hoisting the miners out of the earthen prison using a special one-man capsule that was lowered through a half-mile long shaft.
Early in the crisis, NASA sent an envoy of two doctors, a psychologist and an engineer to help assist in planning efforts to maintain the miners' health, nutrition and psychological well-being during their prolonged ordeal.
"For decades, the people of this agency have learned to live, work, and survive in the hostile environment of space," NASA chief Charles Bolden said in a statement released today. "Our expertise in maintaining physiological and psychological health, and our technical and engineering experience in spacecraft design all proved to be valuable in a situation that is far from our traditional scope of work."
The agency drew on its extensive experience working with astronauts on six-month missions to the International Space Station.
The Chileans had a very limited set of requirements that they had given their own engineers with regards to how to design this cage, and that was primarily length, diameter, and weight, said Michael Duncan, NASA's deputy chief medical officer of space life sciences, who led the team of experts, in a statement.
Japan's space agency also contributed space underwear for the Chile miners, according to news reports. Five sets of the space undergarments, which were developed for use on the space station, were given to each miner to help improve their living conditions while underground. The space clothing is designed for comfort and to reduce odors while worn over extended periods.
There are still medical concerns for the Chilean miners now that they are back on the surface.
The miners face a number ofrisks, from sunburned eyes after months underground to fungal infections and post-traumatic stress, experts have said. [Graphic: Perils of Underground Mining]
In addition to health advice, NASA also used its spacecraft expertise to provide tips to the designers of the rescue capsule, said Duncan, who is based at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
"Looking at the video of the cage, some of these things theyve certainly incorporated into their design," he added.
Bolden lauded the success of Chilean rescue workers and officials after nearly two months of recovery efforts to return the trapped miners to the surface.
"On behalf of the entire NASA family, I want to ask that our heartfelt thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the courageous miners, their families and friends, and the dedicated people who have been working to safely reach those who are still trapped underground," Bolden said in a statement. "There is a lot of hard work ahead for rescuers, but the Chilean government and the people of that great nation should be praised for their steadfast determination. Their unwavering commitment is the reason we are witness to the joyful and emotional reunions today as the miners are returned to the surface one-by-one."
Bolden also said he was proud of the space agency representatives who contributed to the rescue effort, and prayed for the safety and health of the miners during their recovery.