Space Grip Shoe

Ferrous S. Ward

Project Overview 

The Space Grip Shoe (SGS) is an iconic concept presented across the history of space fiction, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Expanse television series. Full Commercialization of spaceflight and space exploration is on an ever-nearing horizon, as both companies and countries are pursuing spaceflight in full force. Researchers in the fields of human-computer interaction (HCI) are contributing to this quickly evolving scene by manifesting concepts first visualized in science from science fiction novels through many years of work in wearable garments and ubiquitous computing capabilities. The SGS contributes to this field by presenting a proof-of-concept mobility device using electromagnetic force. The future versions of the shoe will be “smart”, allowing the device to detect the users gait and automatically actuate the magnets to enable a walking gait.  

TheSGS is an easy-to-use magnetic actuating system, with the electromagnets in each shoe operated by a toggle switch hand control. With over 40 lbs of holding force per shoe, the space grip shoe allows a novice to the microgravity environment to be able to move and perform actions as confidently and competently as they would in a one-G environment.

The experimental design for this flight was developed over the fall 2021 semester, extending into the spring 2022 semester, with measurables being user reported stability and intuition of the actuator interface. During the flight, the user will perform movements in both zero, Martian, and lunar gravity gradients to evaluate posture control and stability with the magnetic shoe garment.

This work aims to conceptually demonstrate the functionality and utility of a magnetic mobility assistant across gravity fields and inform future developments for mobility aiding garments in low gravity environments, further developing the repertoire of technology for long term operations and habitability in the space environment.

The Skinsuit targets multiple physiological systems, aiming to mitigate spaceflight-induced musculoskeletal adaptations, such as spinal elongation. Additionally, the Skinsuit may provide benefits to the sensorimotor system, which have not been tested in previous studies. The sensorimotor effects of microgravity are difficult to simulate on Earth, even in bed rest analogs or body-weight suspension, due to the constant force of gravity on the body and body-load receptors. The goal of this project is to use the microgravity afforded by a parabolic flight to explore a research question: Can the Skinsuit restore sensorimotor functions that are typically altered in microgravity?

History and Related Work

The astronaut’s magnetic boots were developed in the 1960s by researcher and engineer Raymond Radus. Known as the Radus Boots, these special shoes featured a novel way to automatically switch the permanent magnetic fields, therefore enabling the astronaut to walk slowly, but surely. NASA did not end up adopting, or testing these shoes in weightlessness for reasons that go beyond this investigation, instead they were replaced, up to this date, with permanent magnets and shoe straps to keep astronauts in position during flights and operations.

In 1973, and during the Skylab II (SL-3) missions, the first American space station, another interesting pair of footwear was developed and deployed by NASA during those missions. These special shoes featured triangle shoe cleats on the outsole, enabling a lock and gripping mechanism while walking on a metallic grid based surface.


Steve Boxall/ZERO-G