Chilean Miners Preparing For Escape at Long Last

After 10 weeks underground, first miner could be free by midnight.

Oct. 12, 2010— -- 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.

Watch ABC News' full coverage of the mine rescue on "World News" at 6:30 p.m. ET and "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET

When The Rescue Begins

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.

The evacuation order has already been established with the most skilled to go first in order to test it and report problems.

Once it's certain the capsule is operating smoothly, the 10 sickest men will be lifted. Finally the healthiest will brought to the surface.

"We began to talk to them about the proper order of rescue and they were fighting against us yesterday because every one of them wanted to be at the end of the line, not at the beginning," Chilean Minister of Health Jaime Manalich said Sunday.

It's expected that the last man up will be Luis Urzua, the man who was shift foreman when the collapse occurred and has shown inspiring leadership throughout the ordeal.

When the men reach the surface, they will have to wear sunglasses to protect their eyesight from the glare of daylight.

Ringing of Bell Announces Breakthrough of Drill

The miners have been trapped almost a half mile underground since August 5. Getting them out has been an epic struggle, the most technologically challenging mine rescue ever attempted.

Three drills using three different technologies raced to finish a rescue shaft. This weekend it happened.

The so-called Plan B drill, an American-made Schramm T-130 water will borer, broke through to the men early Saturday.

Drill operator Jeff Hart was brought in from Afghanistan to help in the rescue effort.

Hart said the area where the mine was located is one of the toughest terrains to drill and the crews took extra care to ensure safety of both the rescuers and the miners.

"You take a more personal approach to it," he said.

A bell announced the breakthrough to the miners' families at the makeshift camp outside the mine gates. What followed was a spontaneous celebration, but it will no doubt be dwarfed by the celebration that will follow the rescue of all 33 men.

When the disaster began, mining officials thought that rescue wouldn't be possible until December. Drilling has proceeded faster than expected, giving hope to the families waiting eagerly for their loved ones' return.

Now, for the final critical moments, the engineers and officials overseeing the rescue have tried to take every precaution possible.

In anticipation of that moment, engineers lined the top 300 feet of the shaft overnight with steel casing because of concerns about loose rocks falling on the rescue capsule.

Families Wait at 'Camp Hope'

The miners' families are counting the final hours. Liliana Ramirez, the wife of Mario Gomez, the oldest miner, said that she is anxious, but happy too. She said that she is "happy that this nightmare is coming to an end."

The men, excited to see their loved ones, want to look their best. They've asked for shampoo and shoe polish.

The men who have endured misery few can imagine want to look presentable to their families after waiting so long see them and wondering if they would ever see them again.

Sources at the rescue site tell ABC News that the men spent their final day underground signing souvenir Chilean flags for their rescue workers.

They've collected rocks and other mementoes to bring up with them at 'Camp Hope.'

The tent city outside the mine gates is a carnival-like atmosphere as families and the massive international press corps counted down the hours until the miner's escape to freedom.

With so much of the world following every twist and turn in this complex rescue, the Chilean government is broadcasting a seven-camera live satellite feed of the rescue for all to see.

But Maria Jose Gomez just wants to see her father. He is 63-year-old Mario Gomez, the oldest of the miners.

When asked what her words would be to her father, Maria said in Spanish: "I believe at that moment there will be no words… only hugs."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.