The wait is almost over for 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 10 long weeks. The miners are expected to be pulled to the surface today one by one on a pulley-system.
Laurence Golborne, Chile's Minister of Mines, said at a press conference today that the rescue will begin at around 8 p.m. Eastern time.
Officials "hope to have at least one of our miners on the surface" before midnight, Golborne said.
The concrete foundation of the winch system has hardened, officials said. Once the winch system is installed, rescue operations will begin.
Roads surrounding the mine will be shut down at 7 p.m. Eastern time to make room for an ambulance in case of emergency.
For the first two to three hours of the rescue operation, officials will run tests of the empty steel capsule. After one of the rescue workers rides up and down in the steel capsule, the first miner will be lifted out of the mine and up to freedom.
Officials said it will take about an hour for each miner to be rescued, 25 minutes for the steel capsule to reach the miner and 15 minutes for the miner to ascend.
Rescue workers are giving themselves 48 hours to complete the mission of returning these men to their families.
Steel Capsule Tested Monday
The steel capsule designed to rescue the men deep in a Chilean mine was tested Monday.
In its first test run down the drill shaft, the rescue capsule carrying sandbags worked exactly as it was meant to. Officials stopped it just short of the chamber where the men have been trapped.
"The last 10 meters are not important. ..We couldn't risk that someone will jump in," Laurence Golborne, Chile's Minister of Mines said jokingly.
Officials displayed the special clothing the men will wear for the ascent, shirts with their names embroidered, girdles and socks.
The miners have been given aspirin amid concerns about blood pressure changes and blood clots during the trip to the top. Today, they will only drink a high-calorie liquid specially prepared for them by NASA to avoid nausea.
As the miners and their families count down the hours, none was more important than the word that test of the capsule went without a hitch.
"This test has been very successful...we are pretty sure that the cage will behave properly as it has been designed during the rescue process. We already saw that there was no movement inside the cage," said Golborne.
The rescue capsule leaves nothing to chance. A man riding inside will wear an oxygen mask, his heartbeat and body temperature will be monitored, and he will wear a telephone headset to talk with the rescue team above.
Every second of the miners' ascent will be monitored by video camera. They will be pulled up one by one for the 2,000-foot ride that is expected to take just 15 minutes each.
"This will alert us above ground if there is a problem," said a rescue team member.
Before the rescue begins, a paramedic and rescue coordinator will be lowered into the hole to coordinate the evacuation.
Then the men will be loaded into the capsule, called Phoenix.
If something goes wrong during the journey to the surface, there is an escape system that allows the miner to separate the capsule so that he can be lowered back into the mine.