The idea that the future has passed us by, though, isn't quite true. We've just all been looking in the wrong place. NASA built rocket boots in the 1960s, says Amy Shira Teitel for the blog Vintage Space and as far back as 30 years ago people were buzzing around on jetpacks. They're just weren't doing it on the ground.
NASA's Manned Maneuvering Unit, or space jetpack, was built in the 1980s and would be familiar to anyone who saw the movie Gravity. In the 1980s, says Teitel, “NASA sent two MMUs into orbit on three space shuttle missions... Over these three missions, six astronauts took the MMUs out for test flights on a total of nine sorties lasting a total of ten hours and 22 minutes.”
NASA has a history with rocket shoes, too, she says. Designed in the 1960s by engineer John D. Bird the boots gave astronauts improved mobility and freed up their hands. Pushing down with the big toe would release a jet of pressurized gas, turning astronauts into Iron Man.
Sadly, though, just like all of us trapped down here on Earth, NASA's trip to the jetpack-filled future didn't last. Both projects, the MMU and the rocket shoe were eventually abandoned.