Students Ride 'Vomit Comet'

Courtesy OF Nasa


They may not have walked on the moon, but four Harvard students have gotten to float weightlessly and “do Matrix moves” in the air—while potentially changing the way NASA astronauts administer CPR.

So-One K. Hwang ’05, Lily Kang ’03, Mario Garcia ’05 and Manoj Ramachandran ’05 traveled to Houston at the end of July to attend NASA’s Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. Along with teams from other colleges, they conducted a novel scientific experiment in a plane designed to simulate a zero-gravity environment.

They are the first team from Harvard to have taken part in the program, which has been running since 1995. And all four learned about the program through Harvard’s Taekwondo club, of which they are members.

Their instructor, Peter Lee, a student at Brown Medical School, has coached six teams from Brown for the NASA program. He proposed the idea to his Harvard class after practice in the spring of 2002, and the rest was history.


“I figured Harvard was one of the few schools around here that I don’t think has ever participated in the program,” Lee said.

The four were the only ones to sign up, with Patrick J. Lenehan ’05 joining them after several months as part of their ground crew and an alternate flyer.


They dubbed their project—which they conceived in one month last fall—SECURE, or single-rescuer emergency CPR while unrestrained in reduced-gravity experiment.

It was a “logical progression” of tests performed by Brown students in past years, Lee said.

Previous experiments had proven that an unrestrained victim of cardiac arrest could be intubated for an ideal airway to the lungs, and that CPR performed for an unrestrained victim and rescuer could be a feasible procedure.

“NASA protocols call for patient and rescuer to be restrained using a system called Crew Medical Restraint System (CMRS),” Lee said. “It takes at least four minutes and more than one person to set everything up. Four minutes is an eternity—the person runs the risk of going brain-dead.”

The Harvard experiment was designed to show that full CPR can be performed on an intubated patient by a single rescuer, with both floating freely. The rescuer would use a “reverse bearhug” position similar to that of the Heimlich maneuver.

The crucial measurements for the unrestrained CPR were the depth of compression and compression to ventilation rate on a test mannequin, Hwang said.

“But even if our bearhug maneuver does not meet [data from restrained CPR procedures], we think that the timely manner in which CPR can be carried out...can definitely potentially change NASA’s protocol,” she said.

Their hope is that on future missions, an astronaut will be able to use their CPR procedure to begin saving a cardiac arrest victim while other crew members ready the CMRS that is already installed on space shuttles and the International Space Station.

The team expects to finish analyzing its data in several weeks, and is optimistic about the results.

All four said the week they spent in Houston, where the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center is located, was one of the most rewarding educational experiences they have had.