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"Our deepest fear is going space crazy through loneliness. The only thing that helps me keep my slender grip on reality is the friendship I have with my collection of singing potatoes."
Holly, Red Dwarf

Something about the deep recesses of outer space seems to inspire insanity in a lot of fictional characters. Maybe it's the loneliness, the feeling of insignificance it inspires, or things that mankind was never meant to encounter. Or, perhaps, Hyperspace Is a Scary Place. Or the mind that can't handle the emptiness itself long enough starts to make things up to fill it. Regardless, a good chunk of fiction seems to link outer space with insanity. Can occur with Ludicrous Speed.

The trope takes its name from an episode of The Ren and Stimpy Show, about, well, Ren's space madness (and only Ren's, because his moronic sidekick Stimpy seems to be immune).

Compare Ocean Madness, since Space Is an Ocean and all that. Cabin Fever is a related trope, due to it's similarities to the close confines of a spacecraft.

Examples of Space Madness include:


Anime and Manga

  • Infinite Ryvius. After being isolated in space with no supervision, the children on the Ryvius turn on each other quickly and cruelly. In addition to the Humans Are Bastards elements of the series, the madness might also be partly a result of the Applied Phlebotinum used in the Vaia ships, given that the captains of Blue Impulse and Grey Geshpenst also go insane.
  • Planetes spends a large portion of its run dealing with space madness, when a member of the team of space garbage collectors becomes separated from their craft in the depths of space and ends up combating the fear of being alone by convincing them self that all people are meant to be alone.


Comicbooks

  • An early Legion of Super-Heroes story had Sun Boy snapping from too many consecutive deep space missions, after which the Legion Constitution was amended to require mandatory downtime every so often.
  • The 2000 AD series Ace Trucking Co. featured a condition called "Isolation Syndrome" or "Abbo Dabbo" as a recurring trope.
  • In 52, Animal Man is told not to look out the spaceship's windows for too long because it tends to cause existential crises.
    • For extra humor, the man who gives him this advice is blind.
  • Storm of the X-Men, suffered a more mild version of this due to the fact that she was away from the Earth and felt a disconnect returning. She was angry and decided to get a new look involving leather and a Mohawk. She eventually got better.


Films -- Live-Action

  • In the film Armageddon, this is the justification for the loopy Mir "Russian space station" attendant. He'd been alone up there for quite a while. Rock Hound, on the other hand, suddenly comes down with "Space Dementia" and starts shooting everything with the remote-controlled gatling gun they brought along for some reason.
  • Dr. Reinhardt from The Black Hole.
  • Sunshine (2007) features several cases of space madness of varying severity, from the mild (becoming addicted to close-range suntanning) to the severe: "Mankind was not meant to tamper in the domain of God! Die!"
  • Averted in Outland. Federal Marshal O'Niel is trying to find out why miners on Io are going insane and killing themselves. At first it seems like they're cracking up under the pressure of living in grimy, crowded, dangerous conditions far from Earth. 28 have died in the last six months, with 24 in the six months prior. But when O'Niel is told only two died in the six months before that, he realises something's fishy.
  • Played completely for laughs in Dark Star, where the entire crew has gone visibly unhinged from five years stuck inside cramped space, performing a thankless job that nobody wants and having nothing to do.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey featured a paranoid AI; probably one of the best examples of evil AI. Of course, you'd be paranoid too if you used your lip-reading abilities to listen in on your fellow crewmates plotting to kill you.
    • The actual problem is two conflicting sets of instructions that HAL had to obey without question. The only way to solve the puzzle was to kill the crew in a way that would leave HAL with plausible deniability to itself, since it was also programmed to protect the crew.
  • Figures largely into the film Pandorum. "Pandorum" is actually their term for space madness.
  • Conquest of Space (George Pal's 1955 sci-fi flop after his previous blockbusters Destination Moon and When Worlds Collide). The general in charge of the mission to Mars begins to crack, and in a religious fervour tries to sabotage the spacecraft in the belief that Man is not meant to leave planet Earth. In this case the psychological instability is (more realistically) linked to the stress under which the astronauts work, rather than any inherent properties of Outer Space. Earlier in the movie when a candidate for the mission washes out, the doctor diagnoses it as: "Space sickness, brought on by excessively long training without any breaks."


Literature

  • The Robert A. Heinlein novel Stranger in A Strange Land. Secretary General Douglas asks if Dr. Mahmoud is "space happy" from his trip back from Mars.
    • The main character of the Heinlein story Ordeal In Space develops severe acrophobia after an EVA accident sends him adrift in space until rescue arrives, forcing him to give up space flight. He snaps out of it when he nerves himself up to rescue a kitten stuck on a ledge.
  • In a short story by Larry Niven, Belters (asteroid miners) are said to temporarily lose their minds while staring at space, similar to "highway hypnosis". They continue to function somewhat, much like sleepwalkers.
    • Also in Niven (same universe, Known Space), human (and probably Kzin, kdatlyno, Pak, etc.) brains have a defense mechanism against a certain form of this: you'd go mad looking at hyperspace, since your brain isn't evolved for that kind of geometry, and so your brain simply edits out windows, viewscreens, etc.
  • The Total Perspective Vortex from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy works by showing the victim, just for one brief instant, the entire universe, and their place in it. It's described as the worst fate a sentient being can endure, as the realisation of just how insignificant he is completely destroys his soul.
    • Zaphod Beeblebrox proved to be completely immune to it. It was at first thought that he's so egocentric that the Vortex has exactly zero effect on him. The real reason was that he was exposed to it while in a pocket universe specifically designed for him... therefore he actually was the most important thing in that universe, meaning the Vortex didn't have its intended effect.
  • In the classic short story "Scanners Live in Vain" by Cordwainer Smith, humans are unable to cope with the "Great Pain of Space" (whose exact cause is unknown but related to the FTL technology) and rely on cold sleep ships crewed by habermans whose brain has been severed from all sensory input except the eyes, and whose body therefore has to be regulated by implanted instruments.
    • The Pain of Space wasn't space madness, it was actual physical pain. At the time Cordwainer Smith wrote the story, little was known about the environment of outer space, or what the strange and little-understood radiations there would do to a human body. Smith used this as an excuse to write an allegorical tale about the tragic dangers of separating the head from the heart (and not the way they mean in Highlander, either).
  • In Isaac Asimov's The Martian Way, it is a widely known "fact" that nobody can remain in space for more than six months without going crazy, and it is hard to even remain that long, which is why ships are built as big as possible and are filled with libraries and movie theaters to keep their passengers occupied. However, the hero points out that many humans who have colonized Mars have stayed out in space for longer, and on much more cramped an un-amusing ships, too, as they have adapted to the experience. They also think that floating in the void in a spacesuit is great fun, and spend much of their off-duty hours while travelling between planets doing so.
  • Asimov has also written a story called "I am in Marsport without Hilda" which is based around the fact that most people cannot travel in space without a dose of special medication... and it is very difficult to conceal the fact said medication can be cooked into a super drug in anyone's kitchen.
  • In the short story "The Second Kind of Loneliness" by George R. R. Martin, the sole inhabitant of a space station spends most of the story wondering why his relief hasn't arrived. Only at the end does he remember that he murdered his relief several months prior for interrupting the solitude he had finally become accustomed to.
  • The Shores Of Death by Michael Morcock: no-one can leave the Earth for as much as a month without their spirit driving them mad with the pain of separation from mother Gaia. One man manages to spend years away by reforming himself into a mutant monstrosity, but his acolytes die horribly. Then again, Orlando Sharvis may in fact be another incarnation of Arioch, or perhaps Satan.
  • In the short story Competition by James Causey, just looking into a viewport is enough to send a female biochemist into temporary insanity -- it's mentioned that only experienced space travellers can do so.
  • In the short story Egocentric Orbit by John Cory, the first men launched into space withdraw into themselves and refuse to talk to anyone, such is the ego-boosting effect of seeing the entire world revolve around them.
  • In the William Gibson short story Hinterlands, those who travel the interstellar "Highway" invariably return catatonic, insane or dead by their own hand. In rare cases a returnee can be temporarily grounded in reality by taking some really good drugs with someone they can totally relate to.
  • The Nothing Equation, a short story by Tom Goodwin (of The Cold Equations fame). An astronaut is assigned to a one-man astronomy station at the edge of the galaxy. He knows that his replacement went insane, and the one before committed suicide, but is confident he won't crack up. Slowly though he becomes obsessed with idea of just how vulnerable he is out here, with a hull one sixteenth of an inch thick holding 2 million pounds of pressure. He starts charting every possible vulnerable point and ends up months later cowering under a makeshift tent, convinced the "nothingness" outside is just waiting for a chance to come rushing in. The story ends with a fourth astronaut taking over the post also confident that he won't crack up; after all there's 'nothing' out there to be afraid of...
  • In the short story Scrimshaw, by Murray Leinster, a group of millionaires on the first tourist trip to the Moon go into catatonia or commit suicide as Earth retreats behind them and they realise their sheer insignificance.
    • As practice showed later, Leinster's ideas of human humility were greatly exaggerated.
  • Mack Reynolds wrote a Star Trek book, Mission to Horatius, in which the possibility of "space cafard" became a concern. Spock described it as:

 "Compounded of claustrophobia, ennui--boredom, if you will--and the instinctive dread of a species, born on a planet surface, of living outside its native environment.... A mania that evidently is highly contagious. It is said that in the early days of space travel, cafard could sweep through a ship in a matter of hours, until all on board were raging maniacs, and--"

  • Tomorrow War by Alexander Zorich all ships has at least some bays equipped with real windows (not videoscreens). If this feature is omitted, the crew will grow less stable until someone starts to drool or breaks the screen and then walks out of an airlock. One of the reasons may be sensory deprivation during jumps -- crews obviously are used to FTL travel and aren't jarred too much, but it seems to make the long-term problem worse.


Live-Action TV

  • Star Trek has a bunch:
    • Star Trek the Original Series episode "The Lights of Zetar". Scotty says that going on your first deep space trip can affect a person's mind.
    • Star Trek The Original Series episode "The Tholian Web". Being in a particular area of space causes violent insanity by distorting the molecular structure of brain tissues and the central nervous system.
    • Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode "Dramatis Personae".
    • Star Trek Voyager has The Void. (confusingly, it's in the episode titled "Night", not the episode titled "The Void") It's lightyear upon lightyear of nothing. You can't even see the stars; it's so big that hardly any ships cross it, thus nobody from either side knows much about the other. It's so big that the ship has to be on minimum power, and a broom leaning against the Conn panel could fly the ship. Nothing to do, nothing to see, everybody goes stircrazy or suicidally depressed.
      • Or composes a hauntingly beautiful clarinet piece (Of course, Perpetual Ensign Harry Kim always was one of the most stable of the bunch).
  • Parodied on an episode of satirical British series Brass Eye, in which a segment documents the way in which NASA were forced to place a mentally retarded man on the Apollo 11 flights as an outlet for the crew's massively heightened sexual impulses caused by space travel. Women were deemed "too silly" for space.
  • Red Dwarf has references to people going space-crazy.
  • ICarly: Carly manages to suffer from this after a few hours in "iSpaceOut" even though she, Sam and Freddie never go to outer space and are just in a simulation room.
  • This is a theorized origin of the Reavers in Firefly - that they went to the edge of known space and something they saw, whether it was the vast emptiness or something else, drove them insane. Not everyone believes this - as Jayne points out in The Movie: "I went to the edge of space once. Know what I saw? More space." The truth is simpler and far worse at the same time.
  • In the Farscape episode "Coup By Clam", "transmissible celestial dementia" is a greatly feared infectious disease.
  • The first Twilight Zone episode "Where Is Everybody?" is about a man who finds himself in an empty town. He's revealed to have hallucinated the whole thing during an exercise designed to replicate the feeling of isolation in outer space.
  • On John Doe, a metal dome in the forest turns out to be a simulated space vessel, in which astronauts have been confined for months to test the mechanisms and psychological hazards of a manned trip to Mars. Initial investigation suggests the crew have killed each other due to Space Madness from prolonged isolation but it turns out their air-circulation system was sabotaged, causing a gas imbalance that impaired their reason.
  • On Community Pierce succumbs to this after a few minutes of being locked inside a space simulator.


Music

  • Muse's song Space Dementia.
  • This is quite possibly what happens in David Bowie's song Space Oddity. In the song, an astronaut named Major Tom makes a trip into outer space, and when ground control detects a problem, he makes a last transmission of "Tell my wife I love her very much" before contact is lost. The last verse of the song implies that the isolation will drive him mad.
    • A later Bowie song, Ashes to Ashes states that "Major Tom's a junkie" - although whether the drugs are the cause or the result of his space madness remains unspecified.
  • The Van der Graaf Generator song Pioneers Over C is about an astronaut who, very similarly to Major Tom from Space Oddity, loses contact with ground control. The song goes on as an Inner Monologue of his insanity.
  • In the Sandra Boynton three-part song "Cow Planet", sung by Billy J. Kramer, episode 2 heavily implies this is starting to happen to the crew by then. The voices sound deadpan and irritable, and some of the lyrics even suggest that some are getting sick of each other. "We've got a blazing afterburner, it's an irritating drum..."


Videogames

  • The Fury from Metal Gear Solid III: Snake Eater, a Russian cosmonaut that went Ax Crazy from something he witnessed while outside the earth's atmosphere. His suit was on fire, and he saw the Earth through the flames... making the Earth appear to be on fire.
    • Why this should produce insanity is a question best left to Hideo Kojima and his imagination.
    • Having the only piece of equipment keeping you alive (your suit) being on fire would qualify as pretty traumatic for most people.
  • In Policenauts, this leads to a higher rate of drug abuse amongst astronauts, who developed the designer drug Narc as a way to relieve the pressure of living in space. Narc is a psychedelic hallucinogen that also gives the same narcotic effect as heroin, so users are incredibly resistant to pain. It's also outrageously addictive.
  • Captain Vladamir from No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. Possibly as a shout out to the fury above, was a cosmonaut who went insane from isolation and didn't realize he was back on earth until he dies at the end of the fight when his helmet is shattered. Fridge Logic abound about why he was an assassin when he didn't even know where he was.
  • Flavor text for the Oort Cloud in X3: Terran Conflict mentions that those who work there sometimes fall victim to "Oort's Curse", a madness with no known cause or cure.


Web Originals

  • A short story on 365 Tomorrows involved walking out in space driving an astronaut to suicide. It implied that it was a fairly common circumstance.


Western Animation

  • The Ren and Stimpy Show actually had an episode titled "Space Madness". In it, the tedium of space travel starts to get to Commander Hoek (Ren) and he starts to lose his mind (however little there is of it to lose in the first place). Cadet Stimpy was forced to restrain him, but Hoek believes that Stimpy is the one who has Space Madness and plots to get rid of him.


Real Life

  • This trope likely originated in 1950's experiments designed to test the effects of working in a cramped, low-oxygen environment -- which could result in hallucinations and other signs of mental stress. Of course, this had more to do with the isolation and sense of claustrophobia created by such experiments, but as no-one had actually gone up into space at the time the results were not encouraging. Actual astronauts worked in bigger capsules and were either not up long enough to make any difference, or worked as part of a team. The psychological effects of long-range multi-year missions to Mars however have yet to be seen.
    • As the recent experiments Mars-100 and Mars-500, mentioned below, show, while there could be some frictions, they're nothing that cannot be dealt with.
  • One of the justifications for the short-lived push for women astronauts in the late 1950's was that studies had shown they could cope with isolation better than men.
  • The European Space Agency locked 6 people in a house/mock-spaceship for over 500 days, as an experiment to see how people would cope with a trip to Mars and back. Naturally, they still still had gravity, but the communications delays and isolation from "Earth" were simulated pretty well. They emerged unscathed, though they were certainly happy to be out.
  • The fears of the Space Madness led to the situation when Yuri Gagarin's capsule controls were locked up, with the code to be transmitted to him from the Earth after his mental state was evaluated. Unofficially he had the codes on a slip of paper in his pocket.
    • Another version is that he had this code in a sealed envelope inside his capsule and he wasn't supposed to know it beforehand. Two different people told him the code on the launch day. Bonus points for second one telling the code just minutes before sealing the ship.
    • The whole team was completely convinced (and was later proven right) that the theory was bupkis, as it was proposed by a doctor who never had any experience with spaceflight or even aviation medicine. But he had too much clout to be simply ignored, so they were forced to play along.
  • Gemini 7 was an endurance test for Frank Borman and Jim Lovell. Long after they'd run out of things to do, as Lovell later reported, "For the last few days we just existed."
    • This may have more to do with the fact that the cabin of the Gemini spacecraft was the size of the front seat of most automobiles than the outer space environment, especially given that crews on the International Space Station regularly stay up for six months at a time, and some Russian cosmonauts were on Mir for more than a year on end with only their two crewmates for company.
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