adidas partners with ISS on a project that's out of this world

NASA astronauts plan to make adidas's Boost midsoles in space, testing the materials in microgravity.

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Sportswear-manufacturing company adidas announced on Tuesday a multi-year partnership with the International Space Station (ISS) US National Laboratory. Beginning in early 2020, NASA astronauts will take a supply of Boost shoe pellets, which are used in the shoe's midsoles, on a cargo mission contracted by NASA to replenish the station. In space, NASA astronauts will experiment with creating the midsoles in microgravity, according to an adidas blog post.

"The main aim of the partnership is to achieve breakthroughs in product performance and improve future design and engineering for athletes on and off Earth," said James Carnes, global vice president of brand strategy at adidas. "Our exploration of research outside of Earth's atmosphere will manifest itself in technology and process innovations for how we make sneakers, advancements in apparel like compression garments, extreme temperature management, of both footwear and apparel, and maintaining industry leadership in sustainable materials and circular processes."

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Image: adidas

First introduced in 2013, adidas Boost changed the game in sport shoe cushioning. Before Boost, the industry standard was EVA foam, but Boost introduced a midsole constructed of small granular material (TPU) blown-up and turned into small springy, energy capsules. 

"Our Boost technology has been on-goingly changing running for over the last five years," said Carnes. "The TPU," he explained, "is reshaped into miniature foam capsules to construct the footwear's unique looking midsole. Boost midsole is three times more temperature resistant than your standard EVA-made midsole --maintaining consistency in performance during hot and cold runs."

But, the company wondered, how does this performance shoe technology work when gravity isn't a factor? 

Giving space a Boost 

To push the boundaries of footwear innovation, adidas is sending Boost's technology to space, to experiment with making Boost midsoles with very little gravity—or, microgravity, according to NASA's definition.  

Microgravity could impact the performance and comfort of existing Boost shoes, improving the future innovation of adidas products, according to a Tuesday press release

As the first footwear company to experiment with shoes in space, adidas will supply astronauts with a device that can inject Boost pellets—which look incredibly similar to Styrofoam—into a midsole cavity mold. Astronauts will study the motion of the pellets, their interactions, and final orientation, which will all be filmed on a high-speed camera in the clear mold. After the experiments are conducted, the molds will be preserved and brought back to Earth for analysis, the blog post said. 

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Image: adidas

This isn't adidas's first space odyssey. Earlier in 2019, SpaceX CRS-18 brought adidas soccer balls to space. Astronauts tested spherical aerodynamics in microgravity to better understand the behaviors of free flying objects, Carnes said. 

"For over 60 years we have been acquiring knowledge about ball performance or energy return in midsole technology from testing in a lab, games, and tracks – whether through advanced robotic tests or custom wind tunnel analysis, we can predict how specific performance technologies will perform on Earth," Carnes said. "However, gravity has an influence over every test and process. Unless controlled, gravity would influence how heavier Boost particles move during a filling process or the flight trajectory and spin of a soccer ball. 

"Testing in space allows us to isolate the balls and Boost pellets from these conditions and focus on additional testing variables, like observing the behavior of a spinning soccer ball without interrupting airflow and external supports holding it in place," Carnes said.

Following the experiments in early 2020, adidas will continue testing other research elements including human performance and sustainability on the space station, according to the press release. 

For more, check out Space robots remotely controlled in VR on our sister site ZDNet. 

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Image: adidas