NASA Chilean Miners Rescue
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Clinton H. Cragg
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Hampton, Virginia – 23 June 2011
is June 23, 2011. This oral history is being conducted with Clint
Cragg in Hampton, Virginia, for the NASA Headquarters History Office.
This interview is part of a series to capture knowledge about NASA’s
participation in the recent historic rescue of 33 Chilean miners.
Interviewer is Rebecca Wright. Mr. Cragg works as a principal engineer
for the NASA Engineering and Safety Center located at the NASA Langley
Research Center. We are in his office today for this interview.
Thanks again for taking time out of your schedule for us.
were one of four members of the NASA team who traveled August 30,
2010 to assist the country of Chile in the safe return of the miners
who were trapped underground when a section of their copper and gold
mine collapsed. Explain how you first became involved with this rescue
Cragg: I don’t
know exactly precisely how the request came to the United States,
but I did hear that the deputy minister of foreign affairs in Chile
came to our embassy shortly after the miners were found alive, asking
for help from the United States. This help was apparently nonspecific,
so the embassy passed that back to [the Department of] State, and
somehow it got to NASA.
Since the NESC [NASA Engineering and Safety Center] works directly
for the chief engineer, we got asked to do some what-ifs—how
could we as engineers perhaps support these individuals and allow
them to survive for what at the time was going to be several months
below ground. I was asked by my boss, Ralph [R.] Roe [Jr.], to put
together a team and just do these what-ifs. We spent a couple of days
just thinking about what we could do to help these people and wrote
a little paper and passed it up to [NASA] Headquarters [Washington,
D.C.], and that was that.
About that same time, so I understand now, the Chilean minister of
health was opining in Chile that he’d like NASA’s help
specifically because we have experience in helping people survive
in hazardous environments. What he wanted was medical and psychological
support. When that happened Mike [James Michael] Duncan, then at JSC,
got the call and ended up talking to the minister of health (who was
at the mine) a couple of times. That was kind of choppy, as I understand,
so it was mutually agreed that we’d send some people down for
a site survey. Headquarters picked two doctors, Mike Duncan and J.D.
[James D.] Polk, and Al [Albert W.] Holland, the psychologist, to
go down. Because I had led this earlier team I was asked to go, specifically
to support the doctors. If there was any type of technology or thing
that they needed, I could be down there to assess that and reach back
to the United States, to members of the NESC, that perhaps we could
get what the doctors were looking for. That’s how I got involved.
initial paper that you and your team wrote, what information was given
to you so that you could develop this paper?
had no information, nothing. One of our guys—we knew it was
hot down in the mine so he did some experiments about freezing water
bottles and checking to see how long it would take to get down and
whether or not they’d still be frozen. I mean, just kind of
crazy stuff. We really didn’t have any information, so we were
kind of shooting in the dark. I don’t know whatever came of
that particular list of recommendations, but the longer list of things
for the rescue capsule came later.
two weeks after the miners were trapped, you were there. Talk about
the trip and how that came together.
the interesting part. I kid Mike Duncan about Al [Albert] Condes,
because Al wanted us to all arrive in Chile at the same time. Of course
everybody else was in Houston, so I wanted to go directly from here
to Atlanta [Georgia], to Santiago [Chile]. Al goes, “No, we
want you to arrive there.” And I said, “Okay Al, you owe
me one for this.” So I had to fly Charlotte [North Carolina]
to Houston, Houston to Lima [Peru], and Lima to Santiago. It was a
We got into Santiago and were met by some embassy employees and ushered
into a VIP [very important person] section at the airport. I remember
the embassy person looking at me and she said, “Welcome to the
I said, “What are you talking about?”
She goes, “You guys are rock stars down here.” I was still
somewhat clueless. I’d heard about this back in the United States,
but I didn’t realize how big a story it was in Chile. There
was a bunch of press hanging outside this VIP area at the airport
when we left. We didn’t talk to them, but our Chilean escort
for the Chilean Space Agency [Agencia Chilena del Espacio] did. We
had to wait for him, but that was okay.
We went down to the hotel and checked in, and we had a couple hours
to shower and then we went off to a number of meetings that first
day, and gosh, we met a lot of people. We met Laurence [N.] Golborne
[Riveros], the minister of mining, and Jaime [J.] Mañalich
[Muxi], who was the minister of health, and the head of the Chilean
Space Agency. But the real important meetings were with the two ministers
because we got the background on what was going on at the mine site,
and the doctors got the medical history of all the trapped miners.
We got a synopsis of what was going on.
The next morning we flew up to the town of Copiapó, which is
the capital of the Atacama region. We arrived there and threw our
stuff in the hotel. This town is set up like a normal Spanish colonial
town with a big plaza in the center, and our hotel was on the plaza.
It turns out right across the plaza was the local government, so we
went over there and met the local governor [Ximena Matas Quilodrán]
and talked to her for a while. Then we went out to the mine site,
and we spent the next three days at the mine site.
were your impressions when you first arrived at the site?
austere it was. It was quite a drive, about an hour from Copiapó.
There was really little or no vegetation, except apparently it had
just rained there a week before. It only rains once a decade, and
when it does these desert flowers bloom. They’re spaced pretty
far away, but if you look at the hills and the desert at an angle,
you can see these colors, and we saw a little bit of that.
I remember thinking as we got to this place—and this mine had
been around since the 1880s—who would have gone this far out
to find this mine? Back then it was pretty far away from everywhere.
That was my first impression. Then as we got further into the actual
mine itself, it was very interesting to see how many people were there.
There were a number of security barricades that we had to go through,
a lot of soldiers, and we finally got escorted past the news people,
past the family members, into the inner sanctum there, and were allowed
to put our stuff in the trailer, and then we were introduced to the
key people at the mine site.
They split us up with our counterparts, so Mike and J.D. went with
Dr. [Jorge] Díaz, and Al Holland went with the Chilean psychologist,
whose name was Alberto [Iturra]. The two Als, the one that speaks
English and the one that doesn’t. I went with one of Codelco’s
[Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile], the state [copper]
mining company, engineers, and got to go see the drill rigs and how
they were resupplying the miners. Right from the get-go my main job
of watching out for the doctors was circumvented by the Chileans,
but that was okay. As it turns out, the doctors didn’t really
need any technology. They were really looking from their own background
on how they deal with issues in space and looking for similarities,
so my time was spent, all three days, with these engineers.
I got to meet André Sougarret [Larroquette], who was the head
engineer. He was personally selected by the president of Chile, and
he also worked for Codelco, to head up this relief effort. Unfortunately,
he didn’t speak any English, but his deputy spoke pretty good
English so I hung around with him a lot, just seeing how they were
conducting resupply operations and what kind of things they were sending
down and what the plans for the future were. Around the same time
I got to speak to the geologist there on the site about what his thoughts
on the mine were.
One of the other impressions I had pretty early on—there was
a significant Chilean navy presence there, a lot of enlisted guys.
One of the key doctors, who was also working with our doctors, was
a submarine-qualified officer who spoke good English. Apparently he’d
gone to high school in California.
I also got to meet another individual, Renato Navarro, who was an
ex-submarine captain. He had been asked to come up there early on
because they wanted his opinion based on being at sea, under the water
for a long time, how they could support these miners. I suppose after
his suggestions were taken, they felt that he was a pretty squared-away
guy. They kept him on, at least initially, as the unofficial head
of the support operations. He and I hit it off pretty well, me being
an ex-captain myself.
It was through him that I got to meet some more navy guys who were
the Chilean navy engineers. We were talking about how they were going
to get these guys out, and I came to understand that there were probably
four or five different companies or entities that had been asked to
submit designs for whatever capsule was going to be used to extract
these guys. I didn’t talk to any of the other companies, but
this Chilean naval engineer group from one of their shipyards was
one of these groups. I started asking them questions about the design
and how they were going to do this and what kind of requirements they
had been told this thing ought to be able to perform, and there wasn’t
much information that they were supplied with. They were told that
the max [maximum] diameter of this device can only be this big, it
can only be this tall, and there was no limit on weight. There was
no other guidance from anybody at the mine site.
It was pretty interesting to be there because there was a lot of people
there and everybody seemed to be busy and doing something. There was
a real team effort, and it was neat to be a part of that. But the
problem with that was, as I also found out, that the organization
there, I thought, needed some tweaking. Getting back to these naval
engineers, there was nobody that told them what ought to be in this
thing. They seemed like a nice group, and they showed me what one
of their original designs was. It looked nothing like what ended up
happening, but that’s okay.
At the end of the three days, the four of us gave an out-brief to
the minister of health who was there. The other leadership at the
mine, which included the psychologist, the doctors, the Codelco engineers,
and the governor of the region—we spent two or three hours,
I suppose, giving them an out-brief on what we had found. That was
broken up and we had to go to a news conference in the middle of that,
that was kind of interesting.
One of the things I suggested to the minister of health was about
this issue of the rescue capsule. I said, “You know, there’s
other things that you probably ought to consider.” We had talked
to people at the mine site and we sort of did a survey, how long do
you think this extraction is going to take once they get down to these
miners? We heard anywhere between one and four hours, so taking the
outside guess of four hours, to be trapped in some kind of tube for
four hours, there ought to be a little something else in this design.
I told the minister of health that NASA does this all the time, we
write requirements for all sorts of stuff, and that we could help
them flesh out some of these requirements and provide them some suggested
design requirements. That was really one of my main suggestions. I
also talked about some streamlining that could be done in the organization
there, and just some other sort of odds and ends.
was that received, being an outsider making these suggestions to the
know, that’s a good question. I’ve been to South America
before and I really like it there, but many of the countries are very
proud, and rightly so, but sometimes when you’re too proud you
don’t want any outside help. I think to the credit of the Chileans
that when they found themselves in this situation they were not too
proud to ask for help, and it wasn’t just NASA they asked. They
had an American drilling team down there for Plan B, they had a Canadian
team for Plan C. I know they had help from the Australians and the
South Africans and Germans, so they were spreading a wide net. When
we ended our briefing there most of the people in the room were writing
very feverishly, so I think they wanted the advice. Particularly from
what the doctors and Al Holland told them, I understand that they
followed that advice almost to the letter.
we talk about the advice that you gave them, tell me about the news
conference that you said was a little bit interesting.
first day we were there in Santiago we were in this conference room
with the ministers, and they said, “The press is here.”
This conference room was—gosh, it might have been 60 feet long,
20 feet wide, and all of sudden the doors open and it was like the
paparazzi. It must have been a hundred people come in with cameras
and set up, and they wanted to talk to us and why we’re here.
The only guy who spoke was Mike Duncan, who, by the way, is very good
with the press. He’s very eloquent.
One of the questions the press asked was, “Dr. Duncan, we understand
that the miners have asked for beer. What do you say about that?”
Mike’s response was, “Well, I don’t think I’d
recommend it at this point.” The next day we saw the headlines
that said “NASA says no to booze and cigarettes.” That
was our first real press conference.
Daily at the mine site, Andre Sougarret, the head engineer, and the
governor of the region stood at the edge of the enclosure at the mine
speaking over these barricades to throngs of press. Mike Duncan usually
talked at that time, too, but the one that you just asked about on
the last night was a press conference just for us. There were a lot
of people there, it was crowded and a lot of questions, but other
than that it was just like the one before it.
returned home with a whole lot more information about the situation
than what you had before you left. Explain how you took that information
and helped the Chilean government come up with some guidelines.
Cragg: I understood
the topography, I understood the people, I understood what the problems
were, I understood how they were going to move this capsule in and
out, and I understood from our doctors some of the things that they
considered important that this thing ought to have. Just having a
lay of the land helped a lot. In the submarine force, one of the things
I was taught early as a young officer is if there’s a problem
in the ship, once you physically go look at the machine or whatever
it is that’s causing the problem, you have a much better feel
for what the issues are. I did that as a captain all the time, so
in this case, just having been there and seeing the people that were
going to work this, I think I had a pretty good appreciation for what
exactly they needed.
came back and you assembled a team. Tell me how you put that word
out to the people that you needed to have help.
I was down there they had cell [mobile cellular] phone signals, so
I had my [Apple] iPhone [internet-enabled phone] and was pecking away
at that back to my boss here. After I’d talked to these Chilean
navy engineers I sent him a note saying, “This looks like someplace
that we can really help for these suggested design requirements.”
He sent me back a note saying, “That’s a good idea. Why
don’t you, when you get back, get with all the Tech [Technical]
Fellows”—we have a number of Tech Fellows at the NESC—“and
see what you can come up with.” That gave me top cover from
my boss. The minister of mining, when I told him this that last night,
didn’t say yes or no. He came and talked to me later about my
ideas and the organization there, but he didn’t say yes or no
about whether he wanted these requirements or not.
But after I got back to the States—we got back on a Sunday,
and it was Labor Day the next day. On Sunday or Monday I got a note
via my submarine friend down there that the minister had sent to him
saying that he wanted this list. On Labor Day I was working at home,
and I sent a note out with all the issues to all the Tech Fellows
saying that we need to meet on Tuesday and for the next several days
in succession to come up with this. That went pretty well.
The first day we came back in we had a telecom [telecommunications
conference], probably nine or ten in the morning. I had my boss, Ralph
Roe, come, and all the Tech Fellows online were here. There’s
a bunch of them who were actually here for some other reason, and
so a bunch of them were in the room. I asked Ralph to tell them that
this was important, that they needed to give their attention to this.
you share quickly about what their purpose is, why you have Tech Fellows
that are involved with the NESC?
Tech Fellows, to me, they’re the bedrock of the organization.
There is a Tech Fellow for a number of different disciplines like
materials and nondestructive evaluation, human factors, passive thermal
power, stuff like that. These people have gone out and established
their technical discipline teams, and many of them know other like-minded
engineers across the agency and people in academia and industry. All
of them have put together this team of somewhere between 20 and 60
people that they meet with occasionally, but, more importantly, they
know what each one of these people’s specific expertise is within
One of us principal engineers gets a job and we need something specific,
then we can go to that guy. I was given a job several years ago where
I needed some material expert who was knowledgeable in fast fracture.
I’d never even heard of fast fracture, but he found one, some
guy out in California that was a great guy. That’s what our
Tech Fellows do. They’re usually older, well-established individuals
that have been working with NASA for a long time, that know NASA.
They’re really a great group, so by my boss offering me all
the Tech Fellows to help with this, I got the cream of the crop right
from the start.
you have a deadline you were working under too?
we did. That last meeting with the minister of health, we were told
that he was going to make a decision on the final design a week hence,
so what I wanted to do was get him something by the time he was going
to have to evaluate these designs. We came back to work on Tuesday,
we had three full days, and I wanted to get that to him Friday morning.
So that’s what we did.
you had a bunch of them here for a reason, and you had Ralph come
in and talk to them.
We initially had a lot of help from Neil [Cornelius J.] Dennehy and
Tim [Timothy S.] Barth, both from the NESC. We decided, at least initially,
to divide the issues up by Tech Fellow areas, like materials and things
like that. We had an initial meeting and we said, “Okay, come
back at two o’clock this afternoon and we’ll see where
we’re at.” We did that for the first day, and we were
not making a whole heck of a lot of progress because people weren’t
The next morning one of the Tech Fellows suggested that instead of
doing it that way, we ought to divide the tasks up into issues specifically
for the capsule itself and issues specifically for the support equipment
that would be in the capsule. Everybody agreed to that and thought
that was a better idea, and that’s when we started making a
lot more progress.
We then had two meetings each day, and finally on Thursday in the
afternoon we had our final meeting. We had a pretty good rough draft.
We were using WebEx [Communications Inc. internet conferencing software],
and I told them at the time that this was going to be their final
review up on the WebEx. I wasn’t going to send it out anymore,
because it needed to get done. That meeting took a long time, but
at the end of it I thought we had a pretty good product. That night
after Tim Barth and Neil Dennehy and I put the final touches on it,
wrote an executive summary, we sent it up to Al Condes who passed
it through export control. So by noon the next day I’d sent
it down. We were pretty happy about that.
Then I didn’t hear much about it for a couple weeks, and I sent
a note to my Chilean submarine friend and also to the Chilean navy
doctor that we had met down there. The Chilean navy doctor told me
that he was intimately involved in the design process, and they utilized
or accepted most of our recommendations into the final design. But
when I think about that, all we did was provide suggestions. The Chileans
actually did the design and the building, and that’s the real
hard part, and I think they did a great job at that. We were just
me ask you a couple more questions about the team that you assembled.
You mentioned the Tech Fellows because they have such a wealth of
information. I think you had a team of about 20, and you mentioned
about 10 were here at Langley. Were the other 10 from different Centers
and/or outside the agency, or were they all within NASA?
trying to remember if we had anybody from outside the agency. I think
we did, maybe some retired people, one retired guy from JPL [Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, California]. We had people from KSC [Kennedy
Space Center, Florida], Tim Barth was at KSC. We had a number of people
from JSC—some were here, some were still at JSC. We had Ames
[Research Center, Moffett Field, California]. I don’t think
we had anybody from Dryden [Flight Research Center, California], but
we definitely had people from Goddard [Space Flight Center, Greenbelt,
Maryland]. Neil Dennehy, my deputy, was at Goddard. I think we had
one person from Glenn [Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio]. It was mostly
NASA employees, mostly NESC employees, but we come from all Centers.
We’re pretty well represented across the country.
you receive unsolicited help? Sometimes when word gets out that you’re
working on something, people from outside the agency want to send
you suggestions. Or was this pretty much a closed discussion within
the people that you selected to be on that team?
Cragg: I know
that some of the Tech Fellows went out to their people, their technical
discipline teams, and asked for advice, but those people never got
into our meetings. I don’t know how extensive that was. I think
it was so short-fused that there wasn’t a lot of time for people
to give us unsolicited advice.
you select these people, or did people give you names? How did you
actually come up with the working group?
Tech Fellows, there’s maybe 15 or 16 of them. I just got all
the ones that were available. I think all of them were.
would assume they were working on another project someplace, so they
were able to stop what they were doing to work on this?
pretty much. Some of them came in for a while and had to step out
for a little bit, but the majority of them spent most of their time
of what you did is your recommendations for the guidelines. As you
mentioned, you included aspects from the behavioral health and the
medical doctors. Were they involved in these discussions or were you
using inputs they had given to you previously?
or two of them was involved initially. I knew they wanted specific
things. We had talked about it at the mine site, and we had talked
about it at the airport before we came home. Some of the things that
they wanted for medical reasons were the same kind of things that
we wanted for engineering reasons. For example, we wanted lighting
in the thing so that the individual had situational awareness. In
case the thing got stuck we’d be able, or the Chileans would
be able, to talk to the guy and, him being right there, to figure
out what was wrong. On the other hand, the doctors wanted lighting
for morale purposes. The doctors, psychologists wanted to keep the
guys’ spirits up. We wanted two-way communications, again, to
help out if there’s any issues on the capsule coming up. They
wanted it so that they could talk to the individual in case he was
experiencing some kind of medical issue.
I think we got everything the doctors wanted. After I got done with
it, J.D. Polk and I talked for quite some time about the paper, and
I think he was good with everything that we had put in there. Somehow
I got all their inputs and some of the other inputs they had. You’ll
see in this paper that we’ve listed if the requirement had anything
to do with medical. They wanted to have some oxygen onboard in case
the air coming up was bad in the borehole. I think we got everything.
so many unknowns. Were you still working on the premise that it could
be anywhere from an hour to four hours to get them out?
course, that changed drastically as they moved along.
It did, it did. I didn’t watch all of it on TV [television],
but the first ones were very slow and determined, the first extractions.
But the latter ones, the last three, I think all came out within an
I remember when we were down at the mine site, they had these five-inch
boreholes that they’d originally found the guys alive with,
and they were resupplying them through these holes with a Paloma [Spanish
for dove] device. They call it a Paloma, which was a two-meter-long
pipe, capped at either end. I remember standing there watching as
they were lowering something down to the miners and timing it. They
had a winch hooked up to this two-meter-long pipe, and they just lowered
it down. It was really going pretty fast, I thought. It took eight
minutes and twenty-two seconds to get down, and I was thinking to
myself, “That’s pretty damned fast. I don’t think
they’re going to be able to get these guys out at that speed.
That would be kind of reckless.”
So when they said one to four hours, I thought that probably makes
sense if they want to make sure. But I think by the time they started
doing it and they realized that the design that they had was pretty
robust, they were able, as they learned more and more, to speed up
the discussion process, were there certain aspects from your group
that yielded more discussion, pros and cons? For instance, did you
put the list in priority, or were they all of significant value?
didn’t really prioritize them, other than we listed the medical
things in the front of the rescue capsule section and in front of
the other section. We did have some heated discussions. You can’t
have a normal conversation with a bunch of NASA engineers. Everybody
has an opinion, and so that’s why you have a group leader. “Okay,
everybody said their piece. This is the way we’re going to go.”
They were all good people, and I thought they came up with a lot of
really good stuff. I was more amazed that some of the best stuff came
from people who had absolutely no connection whatsoever with mining.
Some of the specialties, like materials, there’s a direct translation
there, but other people dealing with aeronautics and things like that
had some really good ideas.
What I learned really from all of this was that the people in NASA,
there’s some really amazing people and that there’s not
many challenges that these people can’t overcome given what
the parameters of the problem are, what the issues are. They can design
something that will help or provide, in this case, suggested design
recommendations. I don’t know, maybe I ought to start a company
where we just hire old NASA engineers and go tackle hard problems.
might have a pretty big selection in the next few years to choose
from as well. You were a charter member of the NESC.
2003, you’ve had an opportunity to see, as you just mentioned,
how these people come together. Did you find anything different with
this group of challenges? It was so different in the sense that you
weren’t dealing with “normal” NASA, that the NESC
steps out and helps industry when it needs to. So did you approach
it differently, or is it the same as you have done in the past?
Cragg: I suppose
I approached it somewhat similar to the way I’ve tackled problems
here at the NESC before. I’d never been involved in mining in
my life, but in my talks with the Chilean navy people, they hadn’t
been there either. Once we understood what the mining guys were going
to provide us, which was like a 26-inch borehole that went down a
half mile, it became just really an engineering problem to figure
out how we were going to extract them. So with all that background
it was sort of out of the ordinary, but then again it wasn’t
because it was an engineering problem.
I find interesting because you went down as a possible assistant to
the medical folks, yet engineering took such a step forward in helping
solve this problem.
it was fortuitous. We were looking to help out in any way we could,
and this is one way that I thought NASA could help.
a little bit about the team dynamics of you working closely with the
other three members of the team. We just talked about how you came
back and worked with engineers, but had you worked with J.D. or Al
or Mike before?
didn’t know them. It was the first time I met them, and I thought
we got along very well from the start. We were all fish out of water,
so to speak; none of us had ever done something like this before.
I think all of us were trying our hardest to be able to help the Chileans
and give them something that they could use based on our experiences.
So we were really supporting each other, I think, and really put our
nose to the grindstone when we were down there. I got along with them
real well, and now we’re best friends.
hear you have a team name.
said about two weeks after you submitted the paper you heard back.
What became of your involvement after that time period?
much at all. I’d heard maybe once again from the doctor, and
I’ve had a number of correspondences with the navy submarine
captain, but really outside this issue just kind of friendly banter.
We weren’t asked anything else, and I don’t know how much
the others were asked either. I don’t fault the Chileans, I
think they did exactly as I would have done it. They asked for help,
we gave them our advice, they took the advice and ran with it. Then,
as the time came for the rescue, it was a Chilean show. And it really
needed to be, I think, a Chilean show. They did the majority of the
work, they really kept those guys alive, so I don’t fault them
for that. After we had given them our suggestions, they didn’t
come back, at least too much. I know that J.D. had talked to the naval
doctor maybe a couple times about some other issues, but I don’t
think it was very extensive.
engineering contribution had an urgency because you had human lives
at stake. How did that impact the discussions when you were trying
to work within that one-week deadline?
obviously knew we wanted to make this thing strong, and we also wanted,
again, to get them something, because it would really be bad if they
finished the borehole first and this capsule wasn’t ready. Some
of the brighter—well, they’re all bright—Tech Fellows
relied heavily on this document called “Personnel Lifting Standards.”
It’s the documentation that provides for how to build elevators
and things like that. I’m conjecturing here, but there’s
specific factors of safety that are involved, so we treated this capsule
like that and drew upon these already accepted guidelines in the United
States for building a structure that was going to lift people. We
were well aware that we were dealing with the safety of these people
and we wanted to make sure that this thing did not fail.
were here in the States living your normal day-to-day duties whenever
you were watching the rescue?
it’s pretty cool.
you have a chance to share with your team that the Chilean government
had accepted many of your guidelines, you were able to get that feedback
back to them?
know that there is a possibility that the four of you will be returning
to Chile. What are your expectations or what would you like to accomplish
going back to the site?
Cragg: I think
I’d like to garner some lessons learned. Maybe NASA could help
out in a situation like this in the future. This particular case was,
in my understanding, an unprecedented event. The Chileans were really
writing the book on this, how to save some people from a half mile
down in this type of conditions. For NASA to come down and help, I
think really shows the strength of our agency, but if we could somehow
figure out how to codify this a little better, maybe in the future
if we get asked to help out with some other issue we would be better
prepared. This one was pretty much ad hoc, as I understand it. I’d
like to get that out of it. I’d like to see how things went
with the suggestions that we made and if there were any other issues
where we could have helped more, or didn’t help enough. I think
lessons learned, we could get quite a bit of good info. The doctors
also would hopefully get some information that would help their studies
in long-term survival in austere environments.
you feel like, just from this process of going down on the site survey
and then coming back and putting this tiger team together, you have
lessons learned from that that you’ll be able to apply for another
I think so. I think the lessons learned that I’ll take back
is that you can get NASA engineers to do pretty much anything. Having
that team here and ready to go as soon as we came back into work after
Labor Day was really key to the success, and the fact that they were
all charged up and ready to work helped too.
a leadership lesson, do you have something you can share on how you
were able to work through some of those heated discussions? Can you
give us an example? For instance, maybe one of the discussions that
you had to settle, how did you come to the conclusion of what to put
in that list of guidelines?
know, when I first came here—I won’t say that NASA was
a culture shock for me, but I guess it sort of was. One of the first
quotes I ever heard from an ex-general, he said that the difference
between the military and NASA is in the military when you give an
order it gets done, and in NASA it’s the beginning of an argument.
So what I’ve learned in dealing with all these really bright
people over the past several years is that when you have spirited
arguments, you let everybody have their say. If you exclude somebody
or let them know that their opinion is not worth it, then I think
that’s where you get on the slippery slope. In this particular
instance, in putting these recommendations together, that’s
what I did. We ended up going through every item line by line, and
if there were any issues—and there were some issues.
I’m trying to remember if any knifes came out. One in particular,
they were trying to figure out whether we should tell them these designs
“shall” be used or just leave them as a “suggested
requirement.” One guy was really adamant that these were design
recommendations, it should be “shall.” Finally, after
everybody had their say, I said, “Okay, that’s fine. We’ll
just leave it at ‘shall.’” To tell you the truth,
I didn’t really particularly care. The intent was to provide
them guidance. That’s my theory of leadership in NASA, let everybody
have their say and then make a decision.
do you feel your involvement, or even NASA’s involvement, with
the situation is part of the overall agency mission? Why should NASA
have said, “Yes, we’ll be glad to be a part of this”?
always good to help people when they’re in need. We didn’t
offer our help, they asked. I think for us not to help would have
been bad, because we had the expertise that they needed. I think NASA
is an organization that needs to engage with the public. Sometimes
the public has that half-hour TV-show attention span, and some of
the great things we do don’t really get appreciated, so one
of the other reasons I think that was helpful in this, is it got NASA
back in the public eye at least for a little bit.
I think if NASA can help in things like this in the future, that we
ought to. We have some exceptionally bright and dedicated people here.
Just because we’re doing engineering for stuff in space doesn’t
mean that we can’t do other things to help other people, and
I think we ought to do that if we can. For a little effort in this
case, I think we were able to help out quite a bit.
you have some other recollections or some other issues that you would
like to share about your trip and/or about this whole process in general?
Cragg: I think
one of the first things I learned in the navy was don’t volunteer
for anything. In this case, I didn’t follow my own advice. I
really thought the Chileans—I was very impressed with them.
They’re a very industrious and hardworking group down there,
and I thought that they asked for apparently the right advice, not
just from us but other people, and they used that advice to good effect.
I really thought, watching it on TV, that that was probably the most
flawless operation I’d seen in a long time. They had, it looked
like, no problems at all. So I’d take away that I have a lot
of respect for the Chileans.
I met a lady by the name of [María] Isabel Allende [Bussi].
There’s two of them, one’s a writer and one is the senator.
The senator was from that region of the Atacama. Her father was the
president of Chile in the 70’s when he was overthrown by [Augusto]
Pinochet. A very remarkable lady. She spent 20 years or so in exile
and is now back after the military is no longer in power. I got a
chance to speak with her for a while, a very gracious lady, just adding
to my positive impression of the Chilean people.
It’s very cold down there in September, very cold. I remember
reading that one of the reasons the Incas [indigenous Native American
culture] worshipped the sun was because when the sun wasn’t
out or they were in the shade, the temperature would drop 15 or 20
degrees [Fahrenheit]. Up there once the sun goes away, it’s
very, very cold.
much of your time was discussion and sharing information. Did you
have a chance to enjoy the surroundings and/or getting to talk to
some of the Chilean people? It’s such a short trip, I know it
is one of those trips where you work all day and then we got invited
out to dinner, and being a Latin country or like a European country,
they all eat late. A lady who worked for the minister of economics
in the region had us all over for dinner at her house. It was very
nice, she was very gracious. We got back to the hotel late, got up
early and went back to work. Then the third night we got invited over
to the doctor’s house. We didn’t get there until 11 p.m.,
and the next morning was an early flight. So we did get to socialize
a little bit. Then the last day we flew back from Copiapó and
we had five or six hours in Santiago. I was told the minister of health
got us a tour guide to give us a windshield tour of Santiago. I thought
that was very interesting.
a nice gesture.
the doctors. All the doctors fell asleep, but I was very interested,
so I stayed awake.
like to end with your thoughts of what you felt personally of your
involvement as you watched the miners being able to reach the surface,
knowing that some of the work that you had done had helped ensure
you may expect I was concerned about that, but I was very, very relieved
when things started going as well as they did. It just seemed that
the capsule—and again, I didn’t design it, I didn’t
build it, we just provided suggestions—but I thought that the
way they had built it, it was performing pretty flawlessly. So I was
pretty happy about that. Very relieved, actually.
glad it worked out well for everyone. Thank you for this morning.
You gave us some great information, and I appreciate it.
Suggested Requirements to Chilean Government for Miner Rescue System