As of the time of writing, eight kids have been rescued from the Tham Luang cave in Thailand. The rescue effort has been dangerous, and the divers, SEALs, and others involved deserve to be commended for their heroism.
But the effort has not been without its complications. Sadly, one former Thai Navy Seal Petty Officer, Saman Kunan gave his life in the effort to save these young children trapped in the depths of the cave. The youth soccer team, known as the Wild Boars, has been trapped since June 23, a total of 16 days and counting. With oxygen levels dropping low and monsoons on their way, rescue workers were forced to brave the perilous underground conditions earlier than anticipated to get the kids out of the cave.
Thankfully, the need for more efficient and less dangerous rescues has been swiftly responded to. Of all places, it came from Elon Musk's SpaceX.
The enterprising billionaire tweeted on July 7 that he had been speaking with cave experts in Thailand about how to make the six-hour trek through the caves to the children safer, which is especially necessary for the kids, who reports say have no diving experience.
The plan was set--repurpose a part of SpaceX's Falcon rocket to use as a submarine. Just a day later, he followed up with some videos, including one demonstrating the "submarine" making its way through some tight passages. Another one shows the craft being removed from the pool, and a person being extracted from inside:
Here's how it works: a child or small adult climbs inside the tube and is sealed inside. Four oxygen ports provide air to the occupant while underwater, and the capsule's buoyancy can be adjusted via diving weights on the outside. Rescuers will be able to see the head of whoever's inside via a transparent, watertight plate.
The most crucial part of the operation is that the capsule be maneuverable for divers. Part of that is the ability to adjust the buoyancy, but weight and size is a crucial factor as well. According to Musk, the capsule's diameter is 31cm, which is just small enough to squeeze through the cave's narrowest passageway (38cm). In addition, the capsule weighs in at roughly 88 lbs--not exactly a featherweight, but light enough for divers to lift and move about. Handles on both ends allow easy maneuvering through the water.
The reconfigured rocket part is on its way to Thailand as I write this post, but considering the fact that eight of the twelve kids have already been rescued, it's uncertain whether it will actually be used in this particular rescue or not. But the prospect of such a versatile device is exciting.
But believe it or not, it's not the first time the space industry stepped in to help with a disaster.
The 2010 mining disaster in Chile that left 33 miners trapped underground for over two months grabbed the world's attention, and the images of the beleaguered miners emerging from the depths in a small capsule are nothing short of triumphant. But you may not have known that NASA was a leading force behind the design of that very capsule.
According to a 2010 article by Aol News, Clinton Cragg, former submarine captain, along with 20 other NASA engineers, banded together during the tragedy to create a capsule that could rescue the miners. The challenge seemed insurmountable--build a transport device that could be lowered through a hole just over 21 inches in diameter. With the input of NASA's diverse group of experts, a list totaling over 75 requirements for the capsule to work successfully was put together.
So, why NASA? As Cragg himself put it, "NASA is in the business of building unique, one-of-a-kind vehicles. I thought we could help."
The result of their work, with final tweaks and assembly being carried out by the Chilean navy, was the Fénix 2 capsule. Rescuers successfully utilized the capsule over a 24-hour period to extract the miners from the San José mine.
Clearly, the aerospace industry is as resourceful as it is explorative. Even with their eyes on the stars, many in the business keep their hearts here on earth. With some more innovation, who knows? Maybe rescues like the one in Thailand will be as fast as a rocket on its way to the moon.
I like talking about sci-fi, Star Wars, tech, and outer space every Monday. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out my other "Real Life Sci-fi" blog posts here.
I'm a sci-fi/fantasy lover & writer who especially likes talking about Star Wars and futuristic tech. I like finding new things & finding the beauty in old things, especially in my "Everyday Snippets" series. I hope you'll join me on my blog and unleash your imagination!