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NASA ForceShoes: Ugly sandals measure space exercise

The International Space Station will receive some unchic sandals to gauge the force on astronauts' bodies during exercise.

These ForceShoes look comfy. NASA

Exercising in space is an extremely different proposition than exercising with gravity here on Earth. Astronauts on long-term missions on the International Space Station have to make it a point to stay in shape. That's why NASA developed the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED), an exercise machine for astronauts. It uses vacuum cylinders to create resistance, acting as a substitute for the weight gravity creates.

In order to determine just how much force ARED is placing on astronauts' bodies, NASA is shooting a homely set of sandals up to the ISS. The ForceShoe isn't much to look at on top. It's a pair of Finn Comfort sandals. Under the sole is where the magic happens. Motion trackers and force sensors are built into the kicks. The shoes were designed by Xsens, a 3D motion-tracking technology company.

Astronauts will wear the ForceShoes while using the ARED machine. NASA explains that the shoes work a bit like an advanced bathroom scale, measuring the loads downward, side-to-side, and front-to-back. The test subjects will perform exercises that include weightlifting, squats, and bicep curls. The data will be analyzed and used to help shape exercise programs on the ISS.

"We are eager to understand how joint forces may be different between exercise performed on the ground and in space, and force-shoe technology might help us do this in future investigations," says Andrea Hanson, ISS Exercise Hardware Specialist.

Information gleaned from the shoe may also help with training astronauts to stay fit on longer journeys to asteroids or Mars, where they will need to be in top physical shape to explore potentially rough terrain.