An ISO standard has played a role in making the ride to the surface of the 33 trapped Chilean miners as safe and comfortable as possible.

Photo: ©Keystone AP - Jorge Saenz

The miners were winched to the surface one by one along a 624 m shaft in the “Phoenix” capsule. A senior official of the USA’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has said that an ISO standard was used as input in calculating the optimal rate of acceleration of the capsule in order to ensure its smooth ascent and avoid discomfort to the miners.

J.D. Polk, Chief of Space Medicine at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, revealed the role of the ISO standard in an interview on BBC’s Radio 4 on Wednesday morning, 13 October 2010. He had been advising the Chilean authorities on how to keep the miners in good physical and mental health during their confinement underground and how to prepare them for the ordeal of being brought to the surface in the cramped space of the Phoenix capsule.

A NASA spokesperson confirmed to ISO that the standard used was ISO 18738:2003, Lift (elevators) – Measurement of lift ride quality. The spokesperson told ISO that ISO 18738 provided a starting point, or benchmark, explaining: “The escape pod and the travel up and down the shaft is not exactly an elevator. But they wanted to see what were the nominal standards with regard to acceleration of lifts, and then they could modify that on their own to account for the conditions of the mine tunnel/shaft and based on the health assessments and tolerance of the miners.”

Parameters addressed in the standard include jerk and acceleration. ISO 18738 is one of 26 ISO International Standards developed by ISO technical committee ISO/TC 178, Lifts, escalators and moving walks.

ISO Secretary-General Rob Steele commented today: “Naturally, I’m very happy that an ISO standard has played a role in rescuing the miners. It’s a modest role compared to the overall effort that has been necessary, but in helping to reduce discomfort and suffering for miners already sorely tested by more than two months underground, it’s a significant people-focused contribution.

“This is typical of ISO standards. Everyone can agree that safety and reducing suffering are important. ISO standards go into the technical detail that translates such values into practical use. The content of most ISO standards is technical, but the Chilean example is an exemplary reminder that ISO standards are developed by people to help solve problems for people.

“It gives ISO and its members in 163 countries even more reason to celebrate World Standards Day today, 14 October, in honour of the thousands of experts worldwide who contribute their knowledge and experience to develop International Standards.”

World Standards Day is celebrated each year on 14 October by ISO and its partners the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The theme of World Standards Day 2010 is “Standards make the world accessible for all”.