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John Meehan Jr., 79; Studied Weightlessness for NASA Space Flights

November 13, 2002|From Staff and Wire Reports

John P. Meehan Jr., 79, retired USC professor of physiology who studied the effects of weightlessness and acceleration for NASA, died Oct. 23 in Los Angeles of leukemia.

Born in San Francisco and reared in San Marino, Meehan earned his bachelor's degree from Caltech and his medical degree from USC. During the Korean War, he served as an Air Force colonel heading the Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory at Ladd Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska.

As a physician, Meehan delivered two of his own children while stationed at the remote base. During World War II, he conducted research for the military leading to the development of pressure suits for fighter pilots at high altitudes.

Meehan joined the USC faculty in 1947, and served as chairman of its physiology department from 1966 until his retirement in 1987.

He was associated with NASA for several decades, and with a centrifuge he helped design and construct the original astronauts' space suits. A master machinist, he also designed and built their monitoring devices, which continually apprised mission control of their heart rates and blood pressure.

In one of his studies to determine problems with weightlessness in 1964, called Operation Sacktime, he put 14 USC students in bed for 30 days and devised exercises for them to prevent dizziness on rising. The experiment simulated astronauts' anti-gravity suspension status during space flight.

In the 1970s, Meehan helped Los Angeles County acquire a hyperbaric chamber to treat divers suffering air embolisms or decompression sickness known as the bends. USC operates the chamber at the Marine Science Center on Catalina Island.

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