Vibrating Toes on Mars

Apparently, astronauts on the moon fell down a lot because their helmets had no peripheral vision and their boots were stiff and cumbersome. They spent way too much time looking down instead of observing their environmental surroundings. Not the ideal circumstances for a scientist. The dust on the moon is nothing compared to the rocky surface anticipated to challenge astronauts of the future on Mars. A need for better boots is obvious and Alison Gibson of MIT appears to be working on a solution .

Gibson is developing new boots that have built-in sensors that send a vibration to the big toe when an object is detected in front of the boot. As the boot approaches the object, like a rock on Mars, a vibration is sent to the big toe. The closer the object gets, the stronger the vibration signal gets. This will potentially allow the astronauts to spend less time looking at their feet and more time looking around, and accomplishing tasks.

Current astronauts wear hard rubber boots, stiff from the knees down on the space station, to prevent static and protect their feet while floating. Obviously, rubber boots won’t cut it on Mars. The project Gibson and her team are working on at MIT is testing on subjects to see if the vibrations help keep them upright and stable without having to constantly look down.

In addition to the vibrating toe, she has designed a series of glowing dots across the top of the boot that will gradually go opaque as the boot nears a solid object. This gives the wearer a visual cue in addition to the vibrations. Thanks to 3-D printing, the boots weigh in at a mere one pound each. A massive improvement over the moon boots that required real effort to lift and walk in. Mars scientists will truly be on their own and won’t be able to ask for help if they keep falling down, so this new age boot will really benefit those who venture onto the great red planet. When I’m feeling adventurous, I like to play games online. Play now at

In reality, humans won’t be getting to Mars until around 2030, but it is never too early to start preparing. Using the current astronauts working on the International Space Station as models, researchers are fine tuning space suit designs to be more user-friendly. Flexibility is a major factor that has always been a problem. Hand dexterity and sensing movement with the foot are milestone issues that will significantly improve function and activities for astronauts going into the future.

Other research teams are working on a better space glove. The challenge with gloves is a need for lots of flexibility in the fingers and the opposable thumb. Other issues being worked on are the rigid non-turning helmet, the overall weight of the space suit and heating and cooling inside to ensure safety and comfort for the wearer. I truly believe that we are in an amazing time of scientific research right now that will allow space exploration in a way never even imagined fifty years ago. Everyone should be excited for what’s coming next.

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Beth Reid

I love to write and do taxes. Nature is my inspiration and technology is my format. I have four adult children and two grandkids that keep me happy and busy.

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