Given that there isn't any gravity on the International Space Station you’d think that shoes would be a very low priority, but on the latest Russian Soyuz capsule to dock with the station on May 28, NASA sent along a pair of high-tech ForceShoes to monitor astronauts as they exercise to make sure they get the full benefits of their workouts.
The human body isn't designed for living in weightlessness. Prolonged exposure results in bone loss, loss of muscle mass and tone, a weakened cardiovascular system, and even the immune system is compromised. One way of combating the atrophy is regular exercise, but that’s easier said than done when floating in space, so it’s often difficult to tell if a particular workout is rigorous enough to do any good.
What NASA wanted was a portable device that would allow them to measure the loads and motions of the astronauts as they exercised. They settled on the Dutch-made ForceShoe, which was co-developed by Xsens and University of Twente. The force-measuring shoes have force and motion trackers in each shoe and were originally developed to help in rehabilitating stroke patients by analyzing precisely how they walk.
The ForceShoes will be used to measure the astronauts’ progress as they exercise on the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) – a sort of zero-gravity gym machine. Using feedback from the shoes, the space agency will be able to analyze what is happening as the as the astronauts exercise, the effectiveness of the ARED, and whether or not the crew are getting the good of the exercise to counteract the effects of zero gravity, or if weightlessness allows them to “coast” through without realizing it.
NASA has already conducted extensive tests on ForceShoe, including a series of parabolic flights in a jet air transport to simulate zero gravity for brief periods of time.
The NASA video below discusses ForceShoe.