According to the 1950s, we should have jet packs and flying cars by now. Another lost transportation method from yesteryear: jet shoes. In the 1960s, NASA engineers built jet shoes for astronauts, which, in the revised history of everyone’s dreams, could have eventually trickled down to a consumer version.
Jet shoes emerged because engineers and mission planners really didn’t know what kinds of challenges astronauts would be facing in on spacewalks. They just knew astronauts would need a way to maneuver in a vacuum. In 1965, NASA Langley engineer John D. Bird came up with the simple solution of putting jets on their shoes.
Bird drew inspiration from two colleagues, Charles Zimmerman and Paul Hill, whose “Flying Platform” was a proof-of-concept technology that demonstrated humans were pretty good at controlling their direction fo travel with a foot-based propulsion system. It made sense: humans spend a lot of time upright so why not harness this natural orientation for maneuverability in space? As a bonus, a foot-based system would free up the astronauts’ hands for working.
Bird’s jet shoes system was pneumatic and fairly simple. The bulk of the system was external — a backpack served as the storage assembly for the ...