Chile Miners: NASA to the Rescue

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Launius said this has happened several times since the end of the Apollo moon project.

In the last month, contractors have started layoffs at NASA centers in Florida, Alabama and elsewhere, despite the protests of many senators. So even though the Chilean rescue only involved a relative handful of NASA people, it came at a good time for the space program.

"I am proud of the people of this agency who were able to bring the experience of spaceflight down to Earth when it was needed most," said NASA's administrator, Charles Bolden, in a press statement.

Clinton Cragg, the engineer who worked on the rescue pod, did repeated interviews after the first miners were safe, including one for NASA's own public affairs operation.

"Our agency really has a lot of exceptional people," he said on NASA Television. "I mean, 20 or so engineers who offered to drop everything for three days to come up with the list of requirements for that capsule, I think, really exemplifies everything that NASA stands for."

ABC News' Bojana Zupan contributed information for this story.

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