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Astronauts offer advice for rescue of trapped Chilean miners

There are few people on the planet who might understand what the Chilean miners, trapped underground for a month, might be going through.

Diego Urbina thinks he might be one of them. Urbina has been holed up in a mock spaceship in Moscow since June 3, as part of a 520-day experiment to simulate a manned mission to Mars.

He and five other men are conducting experiments “along the way” to see how humans would survive the long lonely journey. Even their communication with the outside world mimics what a manned mission to Mars would look like. They have access to email (with a lifelike 20-minute delay), and every few days, Diego Urbina, an Italian-Colombian astronaut, checks into Twitter.

He apparently first heard the news of the 33 Chilean miners in late August, tweeting in Spanish on Aug. 29: “Our heart is with the families and the miners trapped in Chile. We hope they’ll be saved very soon.”

Today he doled out some advice to the rescue effort: “If their mood is ok, they should have a worst-case estimate of the time they will be trapped.”

(Urbina’s not the first to compare the miners’ experience to that of astronauts — a group of NASA experts was due to arrive at the site today to share advice with rescuers.)

“If somebody had told me, Diego, you have to stay there for 105 days, and today they changed to 520, it’d be tough,” Urbina tweeted today.

And finally: “Anyway, we wrote a letter for them. We hope it arrives…those guys are truly brave.”

Scientists believe the most difficult part of the mission will be the psychological stress. The crewmen — three Russians, one French, one Chinese and Urbina — have to spend 24 hours a day together, living in cramped metal capsules that span just 550 square meters, with no natural light.

For 520 days, they’ll live without fresh water, alcohol and, probably, sex.

The six men have already “exited Earth’s orbit” and are “on their way” to the Red Planet. They’ll “arrive” on Mars in late January and “land” back on Earth in November 2011.