Human space travel comes with a host of problems, not the least of which is our general inability to survive in a vacuum without, you know, dying. But a new technique that's done wonders for fruit fly larvae and could one day lead to the same for humans may have solved that problem. By bombarding larvae with electrons (as seen in the above video), Scientists discovered that they could get by in a vacuum totally unscathed.

The scientists found that he electrons' energy caused the molecules on top of the larvae's skin to link together. And though this resulting layer was only 50 to 100 billionths of a meter thick, it was strong enough to stop gasses and liquids from escaping. According to Takahiko Hariyama of the Hamamatsu University School of Medicine in Japan:

Even if we touched the surface [of the layer], the surface did not break by our mechanical touch. It was almost like a miniature spacesuit.

So while this is great news for fruit flies, most creatures aren't going to have natural, polymerization-prone layers, and its this problem that led to the even more exciting discovery. In an effort to imitate the effect, mosquito larvae were dunked in a bath of water mixed with Tween 20, a non-harmful chemical used in everything from detergents to hard candy. These Tween-bathed mosquito larvae were able to survive a vacuum for 30 minutes before embracing death. Those without them, of course, died quick, horrible deaths.

Should the scientists be able to adequately protect against the microscope's radiation, never-before-seen microscopic photographs of insects' organs may soon become a reality. And as for more long-term visions, this suggestion of a whole new kind of space travel for man is incredibly exciting—even if, at this point, it's still just a dream. [Science via Wired]


Larvae without electron blast.