NASA Collaboration with Packard Children’s Hospital Takes Safety to New Heights

For Release: November 16, 2011

PALO ALTO, Calif. — NASA's astronauts learn to fly by simulating the real thing. Over and over, they practice the maneuvers of space flight in simulators so true-to-life that astronaut crews can pilot real spacecraft perfectly on the first try.

Now, the experts who run NASA's training programs are extending the knowledge gained from decades of spaceflight simulation to another high-risk enterprise:  saving the lives of critically ill children and expectant mothers. Two professionals from the NASA contractor United Space Alliance will be visiting Lucile Packard Children's Hospital on Nov. 17 and 18 to share their expertise at the hospital's Center for Advanced Pediatric & Perinatal Education, an international leader in simulation-based training of physicians, nurses and other health care professionals.
"We're going to be exploring ways to deliver safer, more effective, more efficient care by learning from their extensive experience in simulating spaceflight, one of the most high-risk activities human beings can undertake," said Packard Children's neonatologist Louis Halamek, MD, who directs CAPE.

Halamek, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, hopes the visit will be the beginning of an extended collaboration between those with expertise in spaceflight and the health care industry. "Simulation is an integral part of everything they do at NASA, and their model is one that those of us in health care should emulate," he said.
At CAPE, health care professionals learn to manage difficult clinical situations during simulations that are highly realistic but do not put real patients at risk. CAPE’s resources include working medical equipment; patient simulators capable of generating realistic anatomic and physiologic cues; video cameras to record all of the activity for use during debriefing sessions that follow each simulation; and a control room where instructors sit behind a one-way mirror to ensure that the patient simulator responds to the actions of the trainees in a realistic fashion.  CAPE has provided training to health care professional from more than 40 U.S. states and 20 countries.

The guests from United Space Alliance, Darrel McGregor and Michael Sterling, work at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and have many years of experience in the training of not only astronauts and flight controllers but also their instructors.  They have supervised thousands of hours of spaceflight simulation and are now members of the group that develops spaceflight training standards. Their trip to CAPE and Packard Children’s is in follow-up to a visit that Halamek made to the Johnson Space Center earlier this year under a grant from the Center for Aviation Safety and Research at the Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology at St Louis University.

During their visit, McGregor and Sterling will share their insights into how simulation enhances safety with CAPE's simulation instructor team. In addition, they will observe and provide feedback on a series of simulations in Packard’s labor and delivery unit and will meet with several Packard Children's administrative and patient care leaders to share ideas for potential future collaboration. Halamek hopes the collaboration will enable the health care industry to learn from NASA's many decades of experience in using simulation to teach people to respond to challenging situations. "Our colleagues at NASA have a wealth of knowledge about the effective use of simulation to enhance safety and we can learn a great deal from them to help improve our safety culture," Halamek said. "Our hope is that our collaboration will result in better outcomes for both industries."


Reena Mukamal

About Stanford Medicine Children's Health

Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, with Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford at its center, is the Bay Area’s largest health care system exclusively dedicated to children and expectant mothers. Our network of care includes more than 65 locations across Northern California and more than 85 locations in the U.S. Western region. Along with Stanford Health Care and the Stanford School of Medicine, we are part of Stanford Medicine, an ecosystem harnessing the potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education, and clinical care to improve health outcomes around the world. We are a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the community through meaningful outreach programs and services and providing necessary medical care to families, regardless of their ability to pay. Discover more at