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Should astronauts make use of their toes to grip and hold in zero gee?


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It seems to me that whilst feet and toes are not as dexterous or strong as hands they are still capable of gripping and holding - and that would be useful in zero gravity. Those with no choice but rely on feet show how versatile feet and toes can be with practice. Down here on Earth I will use my toes to pick things up off the floor and pass them to my hands when I am barefoot, usually without conscious thought.

I think not using feet in space is a wasted opportunity. Should astronauts be training to use their feet and toes to maximise their body's versatility?

Edited by Ken Fabian
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9 hours ago, Ken Fabian said:

It seems to me that whilst feet and toes are not as dexterous or strong as hands they are still capable of gripping and holding - and that would be useful in zero gravity. Those with no choice but rely on feet show how versatile feet and toes can be with practice. Down here on Earth I will use my toes to pick things up off the floor and pass them to my hands when I am barefoot, usually without conscious thought.

I think not using feet in space is a wasted opportunity. Should astronauts be training to use their feet and toes to maximise their body's versatility?

It's not just the feet, it's the suit, which needs to be resilient and maintain air-tight integrity. You can't use your toes to pick things up while wearing boots.

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28 minutes ago, mistermack said:

I think he means inside the Space Station

330px-ISS-20_Robert_Thirsk_at_the_Minus_

I suppose it would depend on the individual but I notice that the guy in the picture is wearing gloves on his hands, so maybe there's a technical reason to keep skin away from components.

Is there any evidence that they don't use their feet when appropriate?

Even inside, I would imagine gloves and socks/shoes are partly hygiene and safety. A cut is a tad more problematic in zero g. Lots of unfriendly edges are visible in that photo.

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11 hours ago, Ken Fabian said:

It seems to me that whilst feet and toes are not as dexterous or strong as hands they are still capable of gripping and holding - and that would be useful in zero gravity. Those with no choice but rely on feet show how versatile feet and toes can be with practice. Down here on Earth I will use my toes to pick things up off the floor and pass them to my hands when I am barefoot, usually without conscious thought.

I think not using feet in space is a wasted opportunity. Should astronauts be training to use their feet and toes to maximise their body's versatility?

They apparently wear socks for warmth and comfort, but if they didn't it could work for everyone with long enough toes. Maybe some kind of foot gloves could be done.

Read about this idea as a low-G adaptation in scifi, in Integral Trees by Larry Niven. Good read if interested.

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I did mean barefoot inside, for example the ISS - I'm inclined towards Outside spacesuits that have no legs at all, to free those feet and toes for foot operated controls inside the space "suit". That is also because I think it is appropriate to make best use of feet in an environment where they are freed up for other uses than standing and walking.

I can't see hygiene as a serious issue - where would feet be used on the ISS that gets them dirty? The "gross" response to bare feet is, in my view, unnecessary and inappropriate, but if people do find the sight of naked feet a problem there are such things as foot gloves. Or they can get used to them.

There are apparently issues with dead skin on feet peeling and flaking from lack of use - a legitimate hygiene issue - so wearing socks can be more than an issue with nakedness. But foot gloves are equally able to deal with it.

11 hours ago, swansont said:

Is there any evidence that they don't use their feet when appropriate?

They apparently use bars they can slip feet behind, to anchor themselves, but mostly socks are worn. That is certainly a reasonable use of feet which being barefoot doesn't change - but they could be used in other ways, for which feet and toes would be entirely appropriate. I could reach for small items that are out of reach of (occupied) hands and arms. I could get a (light) steadying grip without any dedicated foot bar . Or, if I have been keeping my body flexible - a lot more flexible than I am now - I could possibly hold something I am working on with one or both feet so both hands can still be used. Ultimately we could and probably should develop foot specific tools and aids.

Edited by Ken Fabian
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On 9/30/2019 at 9:29 PM, Endy0816 said:

Read about this idea as a low-G adaptation in scifi, in Integral Trees by Larry Niven. Good read if interested.

Off topic but ... that is not a story I could recommend to anyone - mostly for it's major inconsistencies between how the peculiar environment is described as working and how it didn't work like that at all within the storyline; eg how many times does (vs should) that "tree" orbit past Goldblatt's world before breaking up? I wanted very much for it to all hang together enough to set aside my disbelief, although clearly he managed with many readers - which is credit to Niven's ability to evoke a sense of wonder, I suppose.

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9 hours ago, Ken Fabian said:

Off topic but ... that is not a story I could recommend to anyone - mostly for it's major inconsistencies between how the peculiar environment is described as working and how it didn't work like that at all within the storyline; eg how many times does (vs should) that "tree" orbit past Goldblatt's world before breaking up? I wanted very much for it to all hang together enough to set aside my disbelief, although clearly he managed with many readers - which is credit to Niven's ability to evoke a sense of wonder, I suppose.

Partly agree about the trees themselves not making much sense, at least at the size suggested. Thought the adaptations and technologies employed were the most interesting parts.

Moving towards more prehensile feet, perhaps even tails again, would definitely make sense though.

Edited by Endy0816
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8 hours ago, Endy0816 said:

Moving towards more prehensile feet, perhaps even tails again, would definitely make sense though.

I wasn't really thinking Science Fiction, although I may have subconsciously been influenced by some; we can find examples of genetic modification for zero gee dwellers - it was Lois McMaster Bujold's four armed "Quaddies" (Falling Free and other stories) that came first to my mind but I recall others, including where they don't look much like humans at all.

I do think working and living in a zero gee environment must involve rethinking how we use our bodies - and our habits and prejudices should be explicitly examined. I posed this question of using feet on Quora and an astronaut with experience aboard the ISS responded with "Gross!" Which seemed a bit narrow minded to me. It may be they can function well enough to see no great advantage in more deliberate use of feet, but I do think it is a lost opportunity to dismiss it out of hand.

Edited by Ken Fabian
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