Saturday, July 7, 2012

Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine

Where: Natural History Museum

When: through September 30, 2012

This is a great exhibit to see when you need to have your faith in human nature restored.  I'm sure everyone remembers the story of the miners trapped for nearly two months in a collapsed mine in Chile and the effort that went into rescuing them.  On display here are one of the rescue capsules used in testing, some of the items the miners used while trapped and lots of information about Chile's mining industry and copper mining generally.

This exhibit is in the back of the Gems room, an odd place I thought, until I remembered that the room is Geology, Gems and Minerals.  I learned that there is a lot of copper in Chile; it contains one-third of the world's supply of copper.  Mining is the backbone of the Chilean economy, and the world's increasing use of electronics has only increased the demand for copper.

The particular mine in which the men were trapped had been in use for over 100 years, and had been weakened by the mining that had gone on before.  Unlike coal, there are no flammable gases in a copper mine, so the men didn't have to deal with an explosion or poisonous gas while trapped.

The rescue effort, involving as it did several different nations, including the United States (NASA advised on how to construct the rescue capsule), was amazing and it's wonderful to be reminded of what great things human beings can do when they work together to accomplish something worthwhile.

The thing that really struck me, though, is the way that the men organized themselves in the early days of their confinement.  It wasn't until the 17th day that they were found, and so for over two weeks, they had to figure out a way to live, even when they didn't know if they would ever be found.  They rationed the food they had, until each man got a spoonful of food a day.  They worked out a schedule for the lights, so they simulated night and day.  They managed to survive in horrific conditions without turning on each other, and that, to me, is even more amazing than the rescue.

Verdict: Don't miss this exhibit - it's small, so easily managed in a lunch hour.  It will remind you that, no matter how frustrating or dreadful people can be, they are also capable of great things.

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