Elon Musk, as we know, is a renowned billionaire responsible for behemoth engineering companies such as Tesla Motors and SpaceX. He has also shown a tenacious attitude towards figuring out complex problems using his engineering prowess, as world events occur.
He recently, in a string of two tweets, said:
“Engineering is magic. Or at least the closest thing to magic that exists in the real world.”
And it’s that same magic that humans employ when disaster strikes.
Elon tweeted that statement on the 29th of June. On the 2nd of July news rang out across the globe that 12 teenage soccer team boys and their coach were stuck in a cave in the Chiang Rai Province in Thailand.
On the 23rd of June, the boys ventured 2,48 miles into a cave named the Tham Luang Nang Non underground cave complex after one of their soccer games. They became trapped after torrential rain flooded the cave.
To make matters worse further downpours were expected due to the treacherous monsoon season that descends on the area annually.
There was some relief when the group was found alive, but when a former Thai Navy SEAL died in the cave due to a lack of oxygen it became clear that the rescue mission would have to be extraordinary.
Elon Musk began tweeting about the technology he thought would assist the rescue operations. What followed was a torrent of suggestions from engineering professionals, all offering their two cents worth on what could be done, as rescuers worked against the clock.
“I suspect the Thai government has this under control, but I’m happy to help if there is a way to do so. Boring Co has advanced ground penetrating radar and is pretty good at digging holes. Don’t know if pump rate is limited by electric power or pumps are too small. If so, could dropship fully charged Powerpacks and pumps.”
Musk’s first idea included drilling down into the cave and potentially lifting from the top - reminiscent of the Chilean Miner Rescue of 2010. Another idea included taking an inflatable nylon tube and weaving it through the cave, providing a waterproof escape route through the cave.
But then they came up with an idea that could be used for future cave rescues. Elon tweeted:
“Building double-layer Kevlar pressure pods with Teflon coating to slip by rocks and front/rear rope tow hitch and lead pockets for neutral buoyancy. ~60 cm oval. Testing this afternoon in a pool with a subject who has never done SCUBA. Do the divers think something like this might work? Probably wise to add an air tank (butt end foward to take impacts) in nose of pod and vent valve in rear. Set air tank to slow bleed rate, then no need for SCUBA mouthpiece or regulator. Training unnecessary and less susceptible to panic attack.”
They eventually ended up sending SpaceX and Boring Co. engineers to Thailand on the 7th of July to see if they could somehow assist the Thai government. Musk was ready to build a kid-sized submarine out of SpaceX rocket parts.
Meanwhile the SpaceX team built and experimented with a metal tube in a swimming pool in Los Angeles. However, news soon emerged that the dive teams could no longer delay the rescue because of forecast rains. On the 7th of July it was announced that the rescue mission was to commence. We’ll never know if Musk’s prototype could have worked, but perhaps it can be perfected for future rescue missions.
After being trapped for 15 days the rescue began. At the time of the writing of this article eight boys had been freed from the cave, leaving four boys and the coach waiting on their small sandy island deep inside.
Four boys were extracted at a time, with each one wearing a full-face diving mask and each one being guided through the labyrinth of caves and waterways by an expert diver.
John Volanthen, the lead diver on the Thai Cave Rescue said:
“I dive for passion and always wondered if it would have a purpose. The last two weeks was what I prepared for my entire life.”
“Elon Musk and His Engineers Develop Mini Kid-Sized Rescue Sub to Extract Soccer Team Stranded in Thai Cave.” Interesting Engineering, 8 July 2018, interestingengineering.com/elon-musk-and-his-engineers-develop-mini-kid-sized-rescue-sub-to-extract-soccer-team-stranded-in-thai-cave.
Musk, Elon. “Maybe Worth Trying: Insert a 1m Diameter Nylon Tube (or Shorter Set of Tubes for Most Difficult Sections) through Cave Network & Inflate with Air like a Bouncy Castle. Should Create an Air Tunnel Underwater against Cave Roof & Auto-Conform to Odd Shapes like the 70cm Hole.” Twitter, Twitter, 6 July 2018, twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1015105500105412610.