Defying gravity


Pictured from left: Jon Hilsher, a senior in mechanical engineering from Maryland Heights, Mo., and Peter Carnesciali and Kevin King, who are quoted in the story below. Photo and video courtesy of NASA

Miners in Space team members were flying high this past summer during a weeklong trip to Houston that included flights aboard NASA’s Weightless Wonder aircraft, part of the agency’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program.

The S&T students were testing how CPR could be improved in a microgravity environment. It’s a project that could lead to greater safety for future space travelers, says Edward Nickel of Lake Saint Louis, Mo., a senior in aerospace engineering and past president of the student organization.

“The current approved CPR method can take between two and four minutes to start,” Nickel says. “It’s also fairly exhausting because it’s hard to get enough leverage in your arms.”

Using an active compression-decompression device and CPR training mannequin embedded with sensors, S&T students were able to measure the depth of compressions and model the flow of fluids to the heart. The experiment built upon the proof-of-concept tests the team completed in 2012 as part of the NASA program.

“It’s easy to hold on to the active compression-decompression device, which lifts the chest in addition to compressing it,” says Kevin King of Boonville, Mo., a senior in aerospace engineering. “Studies have shown using the ACD increases blood flow rate, which increases the survival rate. We wanted to see if that was true in microgravity too.”

The Weightless Wonder, an aircraft modified to mimic a reduced-gravity environment, served as the backdrop for the tests. The aircraft flew approximately 30 parabolas with roller-coaster-like climbs and dips to produce periods of weightlessness and hyper-gravity ranging from 0 to 2 g’s.

For Peter Carnesciali of Ballwin, Mo., a junior in computer engineering and the team’s former secretary, floating in microgravity was something “you can’t imagine until you feel it.”

“It’s mind-blowing,” he says.

This was the team’s eighth time to be selected to participate in NASA’s program, and the group is currently planning a proposal for an experiment next summer.

Story by Mindy Limback

Learn more about Missouri S&T’s mechanical and aerospace engineering programs.