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November 26, 2019

1960s Space Age Toy Rocket Shoes Simulate Walking on the Moon

In the 1960s, toy manufacturers made a lot of space type toys as part of the Cold War rocket craze. They were to simulate moon walking. These rocket shoes are constructed of metal and plastic, and made to strap on to a kids shoes. The bottom have springs attached.

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 for 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.

John D. Bird with a prototype for jet-propelled shoes at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, 1967.

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 15 pounds of oxygen pressurized at 6,000 pounds per square inch that would power the jets. The gas would travel through a solenoid valve to the supply line that would bring it to the jet. Each jet would deliver a burst of the compressed gas at two pounds of thrust from each thrust valve nozzle with a pressure of about 165 pounds per square inch.


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