NASA's Rescue Expertise Is Needed Again - In Thailand

Keith's note: I got this note from Homer Hickam today: "While reading about the kids in Thailand trapped in a cave by floodwaters and the rescuers thinking about training them to scuba dive, it first occurred to me that we teach youngsters to dive very quickly at Space Camp's Underwater Astronaut Trainer (UAT) and might be able to help. But on second thought, we do this in ideal conditions with perfectly clear, warm water. These youngsters in Thailand would have to deal with cold, very murky, and rapidly moving water so I concluded teaching them to dive was impractical.

Then I recalled that NASA developed Personal Rescue Enclosures (PRE) for shuttle rescues. Here's a mockup of the rescue ball as tested. In this case, the ball would be flooded, eliminating the buoyancy problem. Could be done and the kids could be fully controlled this way.

Although this was decades ago and the PRE may have been discarded long ago, the ability of NASA to rebuild one could come quickly. The problem with a PRE underwater is, of course, its buoyancy but lead could be built within the layers to compensate and the weight of the child and a small scuba tank included. It would be great if someone knowledgable of the PRE at NASA (probably at JSC) could dust one of these things off and see if our agency could help this rather desperate situation, if not with the PRE, then other rescue devices we may have on hand or quickly fabricated."

I have been watching this story unfold too. From news coverage there seem to be 3 options: wait 3-4 months in the cave until the monsoon rains subside and water levels drop; teach the children to dive and bring them out with SCUBA gear; or drill a tunnel down to rescue them. So far the diving option seems to be the one that is getting the most attention. With regard to the PRE suggestion I can recall a friend of mine who went through astronaut screening and at one point they put him inside on of these PREs to see how he'd react. He took selfies and then fell asleep. He passed. I wonder if these devices still exist. They were designed to be self-contained pressure vessels and the design seems to be straight forward. Perhaps NASA could use the schools who make logistics bags for the ISS in the HUTCH program to replicate them.

As readers may recall in 2010 NASA played a pivotal role in the rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground: "NASA engaged the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC), a task force of engineering experts from its 10 agency centers and partner organizations that can be ready at a moment's notice." It would seem that NASA left quite an impression on the people of Chile given that children in small towns in Chile can be seen wearing NASA t-shirts to this day.

NASA has also sponsored the development of sensitive listening devices such as FINDER which have been used to rescue earthquake victims in Mexico and Nepal.

And of course, NASA rescued Matt Damon from Mars. So ... perhaps NASA has something to offer these boys trapped deep in a mine in Thailand ...

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on July 3, 2018 11:19 AM.

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