In a news release last week on their blog, NASA announced the ForceShoe, designed by XSENS, a 3D motion tracking company. The shoe finely tracks pressure both in gravity and zero-gravity environments in order to analyze astronauts’ performance during weight-bearing exercises. Let’s take a look:
Our bones and muscles are optimized for Earth-like gravity conditions. That’s why extended periods of time spent in space result in bone-density and muscle strength degradation. Weight-bearing exercises are difficult to do in weightless environments so space agencies have developed exercise machines using vacuum cylinders to help astronauts minimize the effects of time spent in zero-g.
The sandals will gather data on astronauts’ workout behavior both on Earth and in space in order to analyze the differences between these environments and design better exercises and equipment. These shoes aren’t a fashion item, they’re a device that’s part of a tool-kit.
It’s not really fair to judge this kind of tech without knowing all the constraints faced by the development team, so I do offer my critique with my tongue in my cheek. I’m sure that the amount of tech packed into these shoes would blow my tiny mind, but I’m still going to give you my two cents (one cent technical, one cultural):
1. Was it necessary to make such a large device? In space missions, every ounce counts, so surely a slipper or sock would have been a better solution. I can imagine reasons against designing the sensors themselves from textiles (accuracy, degradation over time, etc), but surely the upper could have been made from polypropylene or a similar light-weight polymer?
2. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but space still holds an aura of romantic ideal for me. Yes, I know that you’re essentially drinking your own pee and that space craft are notoriously filthy, with all that hair and dead skin-cell matter trapped inside… But thankfully it’s too far away for us to see from back here on Earth, and our ambassadors to space are idealized versions of ourselves. Couldn’t the shoes look a bit more, um, space age?
As an antidote, take a look at Dutch designer/researcher Marina Toeters’ Moon Life collection. Designed in 2011in collaboration with the European Space Agency, the collection is as an exploration into how textile technology can improve our future space lifestyles.
Marina’s collection might be more for your great-grand children’s moon lifestyles, but with her fully integrated antibacterial yarns and body-friendly designs it’s a more subtle approach to space apparel. And the collection doesn’t forget about life on Earth, using recycled and recyclable materials to conserve resoures and cultural references to remind us of our history and humanity.
The realities of space style thankfully land somewhere between the hyper-functional ForceShoe and Marina’s Moon Life. The Smithonian Institute’s Suited for Space exhibition looks like a great way to see exactly what space explorers have been wearing for, well, the history of space exploration.
The traveling exhibition is listed to appear around the US in Philadelphia, Seattle, Yorba Linda (not confirmed) and Montezuma over the next 18 months. Take a look at their webpage to find out more details.
And who knows, maybe humanity will surprise me and the ForceShoe will become a style icon, sparking a trend in spring-loaded Birkenstocks…