Astronaut Exercises for Earthly Insights

While most of us have dreamed of becoming astronauts, probably the only thing we have in common with them is bumping into walls and random objects. They at least have the excuse of “zero” gravity (technically, microgravity). For all that it looks like fun from Earth, living in microgravity environments, like the International Space Station, notoriously weakens muscles and bones.

NASA had already designed a type of Space Station Stairmaster that offers the necessary resistance to keep astronauts’ bodies healthy. In acronym-speak, it’s an ARED or Advanced Resistive Exercise Device, which uses “adjustable resistance piston-driven vacuum cylinders along with a flywheel system to simulate free-weight exercises in normal gravity.”

NASA has now joined with Xsens, a Netherlands and US-based supplier of 3D motion capture technology, to determine the best ARED exercise routines, by measuring the forces applied when astronauts work out. To do so, Xsens developed shoes that look like computerized Birkenstocks.


How to measure astronaut’s exercise routines–or impress geek hippies. Image Courtesy: NASA

Unsurprisingly, given its Hollywood connections, Xsens eschewed an acronym and dubbed them “ForceShoes.” They were flown to the ISS on May 29th, light sabers not included.

If the ForceShoes perform as hoped, they could be the prototypes for diagnostic footwear for those with ambulatory problems. At the very least, they should provide insights on optimal exercises for maintaining muscle and bone strength, both in space and on Earth.