"It's nice to know that if we ever have a nuclear war, there will be three guys in space going, 'What was that noise?'"Something really bad (Alien Invasion, The Virus, Nanomachines etc.) happens to everybody on Earth, but the survivors have forgotten that for several years now, there have always been at least three humans not on Earth. This trope is a common way to have people survive an After the End situation. It can sometimes involve experimental or accidental off-Earth time travel, where the astronauts are only gone for a brief moment, and pass right over Armageddon to come back to a ruined Earth. If something is explicitly said to affect "everyone on Earth", this may be a form of Prophecy Twist. Furthermore, in science fiction/superhero stories where Earth has been radically changed, the astronauts in space are usually unaffected and are a vital resource for the heroes to find a way to bring the planet back to normal. This is more likely to be if the aftermath of the disaster is the main setting for the plot. One way or another, someone has to miss the apocalyptic party or you're a bit stuffed for characters. Having the characters not be on the Earth at the time is one way to make this happen. Compare After the End. To clarify, the trope is that people in space survive an After the End situation. Other survivals of After the End (such as a Homeworld Evacuation) are not a part of this trope. Wondering about Real Life? The people onboard the International Space Station rely on constant resupply from Earth, so their prognosis for staying in space is grim. Air, water, food, all are shipped in. Over a longer term, space is a decidedly hostile environment, between higher radiation levels and the effects of zero-g. Realistically, the astronauts only have months to live. However, the station has lifeboats in the form of Russian Soyuz spacecraft, so they could (in theory) return to Earth. Other space missions could do so, as well. Without Mission Control, though, it is of course more dangerous, as no one can double check your reentry plan or monitor your approach. (They might be stranded in the middle of the ocean, even if they make it down safely.) It is physically possible for spacecraft to return to Earth safely, so astronauts might make it back. Assuming there's an Earth that can still support them, of course.
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Anime and Manga
- Blue Gender - Most of humanity lives in space after being driven there by the giant nigh-invulnerable bugs, though some scattered bands of humans still survive on the surface.
- Ergo Proxy - The Creators (the last of the human race) stay aboard the Boomerang Star while the Earth recovers to become livable again.
- 7 Seeds has Aramaki speculates that one of the alternatives to the 7 Seeds project involved them (likely meaning Americans) sending some of their people to live on the moon, and their off-spring is currently watching them.
- Dragon Ball
- When the Saiyan homeworld, Vegeta, is
hit by a meteordestroyed by Freeza with only the 4 Saiyans off the planet at the time (Goku/Kakarot, Raditz, Nappa and Prince Vegeta) surviving. If you count in movies/OVAs, then you have Turlis, Brolly and his father Paragus, and Vegita's runt of a brother Tarble (who's 39 but looks 17, even by Saiyan standards) fitting the "missed out on" aspect of the trope, since all were thought to have either been lost, already wiped out, or not important enough to care about until they show up again. While all of the movies contradict manga/anime canon in other ways, the sheer number of Saiyans sent out to other planets makes it entirely plausible that a couple more might have slipped through the cracks of Freeza's purge.
- In Dragon Ball Minus this is explain as Freeza recalling all the Saiyans back home before destroying their planet. Vegeta and Raditz ignored the order, along with Nappa if he was with them, and Goku was sent away by his parents under Freeza's nose. Freeza did this specifically to kill as many as Saiyans as possible. The cover story was so that any survivors wouldn't suspect him and remain loyal.
- When the Saiyan homeworld, Vegeta, is
- In Cowboy Bebop, Earth has become a wasteland due to the "Gateway Incident." It is only barely getting back on its feet when the series begins. Fortunately for humanity, basically every other object in the solar system that's solid enough for people to stand on has already been colonized.
- In the anime Freedom Project, Earth was permanently rendered uninhabitable by an abnormal climate shift. The only surviving humans were the ones living in Eden, a base built on the far side of the moon. The story starts 160 years later, where Takeru (The Hero) stumbles upon a capsule containing a picture of a brown-skinned girl, in a place not found anywhere in Eden...
- The protagonists of GoLion are astronauts who were on a mission in space while Earth civilization was destroyed by World War III. Then The Empire takes them and most of the other survivors as slaves. In Voltron, Earth is still intact and a major part of The Alliance, and the devastated region shown was part of Arus.
- In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, an attempt is made to evacuate people from Earth so that they survive the moon crashing into it. Unfortunately, the Anti-Spiral fleet is waiting for them in space, so they need rescuing by the heroes as much as everyone else does.
- In Super Dimension Fortress Macross, the crew of the Macross — along with some Zentradi who turned good — find themselves making up the majority of the Earth's population after the Zentradi main force destroys it.
- In Xabungle, we eventually learn that the Innocent are the descendents of some human space travelers who managed to miss out on whatever the hell happened to turn Earth into Zora.
- High School Of The Dead has two NASA astronauts running the International Space Station when the Zombie Apocalypse takes place. The United States decides to try launching nukes as a last ditch effort. Most of them get shot down, but one detonates in the atmosphere and blankets Asia with an EMP. The astronauts wonder what is going on down there. The worst part about their situation is that they're well aware about the zombies, and it's very unlikely that NASA will ever be able to deliver supplies or recover them up there.
- Subverted in Hellstar Remina as the Martian and Lunar colonies are the first to be destroyed as the Planet Eater approaches Earth.
- Most of After War Gundam X takes place on Earth, and the rising New Earth Federation is focused just on terrestrial conquest, apart from the cryptic hints that there's something weird on the Moon. It's not until late in the show that it's confirmed that the surviving spacedwellers have been rebuilding themselves as the Space Revolutionary Army (and are itching to start another fight with Earth). Most of them are located in colonies well away from Earth, closer to the Moon(The nearer colonies were the cause of the Apocalypse in the first place).
- Turn A Gundam is another After the End setting, but with a much longer period since Earth and space had contact—ten thousand years, to be precise. The Moonrace has largely kept their space-age level of technology while things like Gundams and mass drivers have become objects of myth and legend on Earth. Naturally, this causes some friction when the Moonrace wants to move back in.
- Gundam Reconguista In G, being set after the UC calendar, implies that while the surviving Spacenoids coalesed on the Moon as Towasanga, others attempted to leave the Earth Sphere altogether for greener pastures. Foreshadowing the Black History leading up to Turn A Gundam.
- Marvel Zombies - The Acolytes on Asteroid M are some of the only characters to escape infection.
- Y: The Last Man: In the third arc, three astronauts (actually, one of them is a cosmonaut) are returning to Earth from the International Space Station, and two of them are men who missed the Gendercide. Their capsule crash lands in a field due to a malfunction (and a rocket launcher) and the two male astronauts inside die. Thankfully, the female astronaut is pregnant with a boy.
- Doomsday 1 (later reprinted as The Doomsday Squad) - While a group is in orbit, someone sets off World War III which kills everyone on the planet, they wait for the nuclear stuff to dissipate and return to a ravaged Earth.
- Played with in Shakara. The world is destroyed at the start of the story and the only human left is an astronaut from the International Space Station. He is killed not long after.
- In the Alien comic book continuity, Earth is overrun by Xenomorphs and the inhabitants of a space station and other colonists are the humans who survive.
- The prequel comic series to WALL•E has an astronaut return to Earth from some mission only to find everybody left. WALL•E helps him to try and find a way to the Axiom to reunite with his family.
- The erotic French comic La Survivante (the [female] survivor) has all of mankind being mysteriously wiped out, except for a girl who was scuba diving and an astronaut (3 more astronauts are later revealed as having survived).
- The eponymous character in the Dutch/English series Storm by Don Lawrence is trapped inside the Great Red Spot on Jupiter and experiences a Negative Space Wedgie that traps him inside for what turns out to be centuries. When he returns to Earth, it has now regressed to an After the End Crapsack World where his 20th century knowledge allows him to reboot civilisation making use of the Lost Technology scattered around.
- A lot of the kryptonians in the Superman comics were in space when their planet exploded and then ended up on Earth. Superman himself is a subversion because he was deliberately sent into space to avoid being killed.
- Originally kryptonian criminals used to be placed into orbital spaceships to rehabilitate that would crash land on Earth before the rehabilitation was done but later comics started putting them in the Phantom Zone.
- Krypto The Super Dog was in an experimental rocket in Krypton's orbit when the planet exploded. Pre-crisis comics handwaved Superman's spaceship creating a space warp between Krypton and Earth to explain why so many kryptonians ended up on Earth.
- In H'el on Earth, H'el's fake backstory is explained as this. Before Krypton was destroyed, H'el was sent into space to find a way to save it. Years later, he lands on Earth; where he finds two other survivors: Superman and Supergirl. As it turns out, he isn't actually a Kryptonian astronaut, nor is he a Well-Intentioned Extremist. He is, in fact, a few Kryptonian cell samples sent into space as an experiment, and when he found out about his origins, he decided to bring back Krypton just so he could rule it and/or destroy it.
- In All-Star Superman, Bar-El and Lilo, Krypton's first astronauts survived the destruction of their planet, and wind up coming to Earth to conquer it.
- Post-Crisis, part of the backstory of the Eradicator was used to explain why there were no astronauts to survive Krypton's destruction, during the period when DC was holding firm on reinforcing the whole "last son of Krypton" thing. Of course, that didn't last, and the "cold" Krypton of that period was eventually superseded by a "warmer" one with a history of ventures into space.
- Planet of the Apes (1968): You blew it up! Damn you! Damn you all to HELL!
- The astronauts on the ISS in The Day After Tomorrow survived Gaia's Vengeance just fine... they even comment on how clear the skies over North America and Europe look now that all those horrid pollution producing, Dennis Quaid ignoring humans are dead via floods, tornadoes, thunderstorms, and flash freezing.
- In the Sci-Fi Channel original movie Alien Apocalypse, Bruce Campbell's astronaut character and his shipmates were in cold sleep for forty years, and wake to a future where aliens have enslaved humanity.
- The inhabitants of a spaceship survive in The Doomsday Machine (it was MST3K'''d by the Cinematic Titanic gang) when the titular device destroys Earth; it turns out they were chosen specifically for an Adam and Eve Plot.
- The old 1985 B-movie Def-Con 4 was slam-bang on this trope. It was After the End, and the astronauts had to get back to Earth and then survive there.
- This is Hugo Drax's plan in Moonraker: to wipe out humanity on Earth with a nerve gas while a few selected individuals survive on his space station.
- The previous James Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me, featured the same idea, only with the survivors hiding in a submarine base instead of in space. Stromberg hadn't built his underwater city yet (his Atlantis base is just a grandiose lab/mansion). He plans to build his city After the End, which many will clamour to be part of since after surviving the catastrophe of nuclear war, he offers them a fresh start in a new perfect society. His plan, like the one in You Only Live Twice (which this is deliberately based on), generally assumes that nuclear war will not lead to the death of nearly every living thing on the planet, which was a disturbingly widespread idea at the time, as the broader environmental effects of nuclear weapons were seriously underestimated. Stromberg just thought civilization would be destroyed, not the whole world. He was right.
- In 2010: The Year We Make Contact the joint Western/Soviet expedition to the derelict Discovery nearly faces this problem as political tensions back on Earth rapidly deteriorate toward World War III.
- After the destruction of the planet Vulcan in Star Trek XI, Spock estimates there to be a few thousand survivors. All those people, excepting the ones rescued by the Enterprise, obviously couldn't have been on or near their planet at the time it bit the dust.
- As with the Vulcans above, in the original Star Wars film, A New Hope, Alderaanians who were offworld when when the Death Star destroyed their home planet are similarly orphaned. While most are only mentioned in Expanded Universe material, Princess Leia was a prisoner aboard the Death Star and witnessed Alderaan's destruction firsthand.
- Moscow — Cassiopeia has a whole bunch of aliens that have been stuck in orbit for centuries, radioing for help. The ones seen are the descendants of the originals. It's implied that they could land but would be immediately taken and "improved" by the machines.
- The whole point of Battle for Terra is a Generation Ship that holds the last of humanity from a war between Earth and its Venusian and Martian colonies that resulted in mutual destruction. The ship is literally falling apart and the survivors desperately need a new planet to settle. Unfortunately, the one they pick is already populated.
- Ditto for Pandorum, which starts with a message from Earth that the Elysium holds the remains of humanity. Luckily, it's already bound for an Earth-like planet. Unfortunately, one of the crewmembers goes nuts and causes a catastrophe.
- The movie Love by William Eubanks and the band Angels & Airwaves is mostly about this trope. One man is left in orbit on the ISS for 'years' after the apocalypse. The main trial for the astronaut isn't as much survival as much as it is surviving alone. He eventually risks returning to Earth only to be picked up by a fully automated alien ship modified by humans to maintain detailed records of human experience.
- To the extent that Robot Monster can be said to have a plot, part of it involves the handful of survivors of the human race on Earth trying to contact astronauts in space without drawing the attention of their diving-helmet-and-gorilla-suit robot invader.
- Iron Sky has a version of this, where the ending features the Earth being destroyed by a nuclear war, while a bunch of Nazi civilians and a single Token Black Guy watch from their base on the moon. And Somebody's got a satellite in orbit around Mars..
- Played with in the 2013 Spanish movie Al final todos mueren, where everyone dies when a meteor wipes out humanity. Two Spanish astronauts are shown in the prologue (5 minutes before the impact) and epilogue (25 minutes before the impact). As they are in orbit, they are convinced that they will become the only two living beings to survive Earth's death, making them metaphorically "eternal". However, in the prologue, unknowingly while they are preparing to take a photo of the event, they are located in the asteroid's trajectory, realizing that when it's too late. They become, ironically, the first two beings to die in the apocalypse.
- Like in the comics, General Zod and his cronies managed to survive the destruction of the planet Krypton because they were trapped in the Phantom Zone in both Superman: The Movie and Man of Steel.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Trillian escapes Earth's destruction unknowingly with Zaphod while Arthur and Ford escape by hitchhiking at the last minute.
- Nobel Laureate Harry Martinson's Aniara. An epoc of a space liner Aniara being accidentally ejected into the deep space and towards Vega (main star of constellation Lyra), just before Earth had been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust, and the despair of the inhabitants locked in their ship and watching everything slowly decaying and deteriorating.
- Lucifer's Hammer has some US and Soviet astronauts in orbit unaffected by the comet strike. They land near the middle of the book. It's not a major part of the plot, though, as the other characters have mostly pulled themselves together without them.
- World War Z The crew of the International Space Station are unaffected by the zombie plague and aid the resistance on Earth by keeping communications satellites functioning. They also find other astronauts, from a Chinese station, who killed each other. Upon returning to earth, they immediately become heroes. Which entitles them to the best medication and treatment available as they die from radiation poisoning.
- Arthur C. Clarke:
- The short story "If I Forget Thee, O Earth" involves the last humans living in a self-sustaining moon colony after a nuclear war leaves Earth uninhabitable.
- Another Clarke story had nuclear missile troops stationed in high earth orbit on Orion-type ships (this was seriously proposed by the Air Force, actually) witnessing a nuclear war taking place on Earth. The story reveals that they were the final step in an escalating arms race between the USA and the USSR; previously, each new weapon was soon countered when the other side devised a means of pre-emptively destroying it, until orbital stations were put beyond the reach of any Earth-based attack. When their secret orders for what to do in the case of a nuclear war were revealed, it turns out that they and their weaponry were purely a deterrence. Instead of nuking the USA, they are to return to Earth and help rebuild.
- In the novel Offworld by Robin Parrish, some astronauts return from a mission to Mars only to find that something has caused every man, woman and child on the planet to disappear.
- In Paolo Aresi's Oberon, a single astronaut serving his shift in a research station on the moon of Uranus discovers one day that Earth mysteriously disappeared.
- Time's Eye, by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke - the whole world becomes a temporal mess-up, and a trio of cosmonauts/astronauts on the ISS are part of the handful or survivors.
- Robert A. Heinlein's Have Space Suit – Will Travel did have a part in which the aliens threaten to destroy Earth and the hero does think about the Moon base and orbiting stations before deciding that they would be unlikely to last long, from grief if nothing else.
- In "Adam and No Eve" by Alfred Bester, a scientist develops a prototype spaceship using a kind of atomic engine, and poo-poos his colleagues' fears that it will kill all life on Earth when he fires it up; it's fueled by ironnote , and they fear a chain reaction. He goes into orbit and returns to find that his ship did, in fact, kill all life on earth. His solution is to part-instinctively make his way to the ocean and let the bacteria living in his gut start the evolution process all over again.
- In Ben Bova's Test Of Fire, a massive solar flare wipes out humanity from New Zealand to Iceland. Russian missile command misreads this as an attack and nukes the US. A moonbase protected by the bulk of the Moon is the only spark of civilisation left to rebuild the world. (South and Central America are handwaved away.)
- Vernor Vinge:
- Marooned In Realtime inverts this trope. It's about the few survivors of some event that removed the rest of humanity from Earth. Instead of surviving by being in space, the remnant are those who happened to be in impenetrable stasis fields known as "bobbles". (Although some of them were in bobbles in space, doing long-range space exploration, and work as straight instances of the trope.)
- In A Fire Upon the Deep, the attack that destroys Sjandra Kei completely bypasses their hired defense fleet, leaving only the fleet's crews alive. The crew compares themselves to Martinson's Aniara, above, described as an "old human myth".
- The 1980's After the End action series The Survivalist by Jerry Ahern has a number of shuttles launched as part of a doomsday scenario — The Eden Project — in case of nuclear war. The expedition goes into suspended animation and returns to Earth after the radiation levels have died down. Only to find the protagonist (who also went into suspended animation) staring at them through binoculars, saying "There goes the neighbourhood." As it turns out the old Cold War enemies have all survived, so everyone just starts shooting from when they left off.
- Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles involves colonists on Mars being the only ones to survive nuclear destruction of the Earth. While some return to Earth, a handful stay to become the new Martians.
- Kind of used in Larry Niven's Fallen Angels - a radical environmentalist regime rules the Earth and the only people left with freedom and high technology are those living on a moon base or in an orbital habitat made by combining the Mir and (never fully built) Freedom space stations. However, as another ice age is fast descending upon the Earth, it looks like it could become a straight example. Funny detail: The ISS is basically Mir-2 merged with Space Station Freedom; module design and construction was well along for both stations before the merger...
- Stephen Baxter's Titan has a group of astronauts journeying to the titular moon. This is the space program's last gasp before being shut down. Meanwhile, tensions escalate between the U.S. and China, culminating in China diverting an asteroid to threaten the U.S. with precision fragment strikes. Unfortunately the Chinese screw it up, and when the asteroid hits Earth it wipes everyone out. The astronauts, knowing that they are the last people alive, release a jar of bacteria on Titan devised as a starter kit for life. Millions of years later, when the Sun begins to expand, those bacteria have evolved into a race of sentient beetle-like creatures.
- In John Varley's Eight Worlds series, the invading aliens have knocked earthbound civilization back to the stone age, but they left the humans living on the Moon and other planets alone.
- In Sewer, Gas & Electric, a racist-engineered plague has wiped out nearly every human being of black African descent. Several years later, a TV show is on the air (with an all-aborigine cast) about a surviving space colony of black separatists, whose residents don't dare return to Earth for fear the plague will kill them too.
- Eric S. Nylund's Signal to Noise deals with events that lead up to the destruction of all but a couple of dozen humans - due to the slowing of the earth's rotation. Some survivors are on a moon base, others are at an undisclosed location. And A Signal Shattered tells the story of protagonist Jack, one of the handful of survivors. It turns out that an alien gave humans the devices that slowed the earth down specifically to give Jack the shared background with another alien... to convince the alien to give up his location.
- Syne Mitchell's End in Fire deals with crew of orbital solar power station trying to survive (and later get down to Earth due to supply problems) when US and China gone into nuclear war.
- Poul Anderson's After Doomsday features two human ships — a viable population, actually, once they link up with each other — discovering that Earth was destroyed while they were out of the Solar System. One of their first thoughts is to contact bases on the Moon and in space stations, who can tell them how it happened. It turns out the killers made a clean sweep and they've been blasted, too.
- Jeff Carlson's Plague Year Series plays with this trope: a character is specifically sent to the International Space Station as the apocalypse is occurring in order to escape its effects, since they are one of the few people left who can create a cure.
- This might be one of Stephen Baxter's signature tropes; it also shows up in the story "People Came from Earth".
- From Century Rain, regarding the "Nanocaust" of 2077:
Some people made it through. They were the ones who'd already left the surface of the Earth, moving into space habitats and colonies. Primitive, ramshackle affairs, barely self-sufficient, but enough to keep them alive while they coped with the loss of the Earth, and the numbing psychic trauma of what had happened.
- Mortal Engines briefly mentions space stations containing "frozen astronauts." This either means the bodies of astronauts which are frozen solid or astronauts put in cryogenic sleep.
- The few offworld colonies and colony ships become this in the Spider Robinson/Robert A. Heinlein collaboration Variable Star when something makes the Sun go nova halfway through the book.
- The Strain: Global Vampire attacks prevent NASA from retrieving the three astronauts on ISS. The American astronaut provides commentary on the state of the world from above while NASA provides exposition on the state of the rest of the world.
- In William C. Heine's The Last Canadian, a NASA moon mission is on its way back when a pandemic wipes out most of the population of the Americas, including Ground Control. The Soviets won't lift a finger to help. It doesn't go so well for them.
- Norman Spinrad's characters from Riding The Torch had left millennia ago the nuclear-war devastated Earth in torchships (Bussard ramjet powered spaceships able to collect matter for their fuel from thinly spread particles in the void of space) and they expand and renew their fleet continuously while flying to search planets which can be colonized. They find out there has never been such planets beyond original Earth.
- In the German SF series Maddrax, set centuries After the End, the ISS is still in orbit and the (organic) phlebotinum that kept its air breathable is even still going — but the crew didn't make it anyway because the same phlebotinum turned out to be psychoactive and ultimately drove them mad to the point of killing each other. On the other hand, there's a small but pretty advanced Martian civilization of human descent courtesy of the crash-landed first manned expedition there, helped out by still-functional relics of the planet's long-gone original inhabitants.
- A non-human example in Mikhail Akhmanov's Arrivals from the Dark. The Backstory of the Faata reveals that their civilization has suffered a catastrophie event that wiped out all civilization. This event, known as the Eclipse, threw the Faata back to the Stone Age. After they managed to rebuild their civilization, they send out exploration ships to nearby stars. When the astronauts come back, they see the aftermath of the Second Eclipse. Determined to prevent the Third Eclipse, they radically restructure the very biology of their race and create a strictly-hierarchical society with themselves at the top and the degraded people on their homeworld as various servant subspecies. They become ruthless expansionists in their belief that only unlimited expansion will prevent another Eclipse.
- Down in the Dark by William Barton takes place after a failed asteroid intercept causes asteroid fragments to vaporize most of the Earth's surface, leaving less than 2000 scientists and engineers scattered across the solar system with only one working interplanetary ship and no tech base to maintain their slowly failing equipment, with many survivors killing themselves or going insane. The leaders on the largest base on the Moon plan to use a Venus lander to land on what remains of the Earth to try to salvage any machinery that survived the impact. The story ends on a relatively positive note - the protagonist discovers Starfish Aliens on Titan, who have the technology to maintain the survivor's tech base
- A variant occurs in the backstory to the Honor Harrington series. Earth was devastated in the Final War to the point that Earth could not have sustained itself. However, by this point Earth had numerous colonies, both in the Sol System and in other systems. Many of these colonies, particularly Beowulf, sent rescue missions.
- In Brian Aldiss' Helliconia novel Helliconia Winter we have a space station Avernus that orbits alien planet Helliconia and transmits scenes from it as a kind of soap opera for people on Earth. And then the Earth itself descends into chaos.
- Neal Stephenson's Seveneves starts with the Moon being destroyed by a never identified object. When scientists realize that the debris from the shattered Moon will eventually render Earth uninhabitable, they rush to build an orbital space fleet to house a small number of survivors.
- In Sheri S. Tepper's The Visitor, an oncoming asteroid has Earth's nations cooperating to place colonies on the Moon and Mars.
Live Action TV
- In Battlestar Galactica, both the classic and reimagined versions, most of the known survivors of the Colonial genocide are either crew members or passengers of various spaceships.
- Odyssey 5: The crew of the titular space shuttle see the Earth explode, and are sent back in time to prevent it.
- They were about to run out of air, when the alien arrived. So it was almost realistic.
- In "Phobos Rising," an episode of The Outer Limits (1995) , two opposing Earth-Mars political factions have bases on Mars. As tensions rise between the factions on Earth, suspicious actions at the bases mirror the situation. The two sides eventually annihilate each other on Earth. The last message expresses gratitude that the Mars bases are intact. Unfortunately, subverted as the bases destroy each other.
- In speculative documentaries like Life After People, they'll sometimes talk about space stations but not any astronauts. The thought experiment is pretty much "What if all humans vanished tomorrow?" but they don't speculate how it would happen, so presumably it would affect the astronauts too.
- An interesting take on this subject - the episode "Roads To Nowhere" indicates that within 200 years every vehicle on earth will no longer exist, due to some corrosive nature; however, the lunar rovers, now untouched on the moon since the late 1960's, will continue to be perfectly pristine for centuries.
- Carl Sagan's series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage has sort of a "dream sequence" thingy where Sagan comes back to Earth from traveling somewhere elsewhere in the Universe in his spaceship, and finds radio silence because everybody else died in a nuclear war.
- The Future Is Wild miniseries adaptation had all humans on Earth wiped out, but those in space surviving and their descendants sending the occasional probe back to Earth That Was to see how the old neighborhood looks. For two hundred million years. The original book just had the humans die off. This may have been a transatlantic difference: when shown in the UK, there wasn't any such Framing Device.
- In a Reset Button episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, the crew of the NX-01 witnesses the destruction of Earth from their ship viewscreen. The evil aliens responsible for this are smart enough to continue hunting down all off-world humans.
- This is the source of some major Fridge Logic behind the plot of Power Rangers S.P.D.; the bad guys start off everything by wiping out the Sirian race (Sixth Ranger Doggie Cruger's race) supposedly by just destroying their home planet, leaving Doggie as the Last of His Kind (until you find out There Is Another in the form of his thought-to-be-dead wife Aisynia). However, no mention of the baddies hunting down any Sirian colonies is made, and Aisynia's survival makes a strong argument that they captured Sirians as prisoners of war/slaves. Unfortunately, this is never explored in either the series or the comic spin-off (which redid a lot of the events of the show's final episode, anyway), meaning this trope creates an inverse Inferred Holocaust for the series.
- In Doctor Who, this is the Doctor's justification for considering to fry the minds of everyone on Earth in "The Parting of the Ways" — there will still be human colonies out there, and better a quick death than suffering at the hands of the Daleks.
- In The Ark In Space during Tom Baker's first season, the Doctor locates a space station in the far future containing thousands of human survivors in suspended animation. The Earth had been ravaged by solar flares and the station had been constructed to allow the survivors a change to repopulate the Earth once it recovered from the devastation.
- Buck Rogers experiences his "freak mishap" that sends him and his NASA spaceship out for a 500-year jog around the block, and conveniently misses the war that wrecks Earth. He comes back just as Earth is slowly rebuilding its society and helps them fend off new enemies and get their groove back.
- What little remains of the human race in The 100 is descended from astronauts who managed to avoid a nuclear Armageddon ninety-seven years earlier, due to being in various space stations at the time. They had enough resources to establish a self-sustaining habitat, but their life support is only a few months away from failure as the series begins. It turns out there's survivors on the surface too, and they're more than a bit hostile.
- The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" applies this to an alien planet. The Enterprise picks up a fugitive from a racially-divided planet and later encounters a law enforcement official (of the other race) from the same planet. The law enforcement official brings the fugitive back to their planet on the Enterprise where they discover the racial tensions of the planet erupted into a full blown race war which killed everyone else on the planet.
- The Last Man on Earth closes out its first season finale by revealing to the audience that there is an astronaut, implied to be protagonist Phil Miller's brother, still alive in orbit.
- Fear the Walking Dead has Strand establish brief contact with a Russian cosmonaut who went into space shortly before the Zombie Apocalypse began. The cosmonaut confirms that yes, the entire world was afflicted by the walker plague and that everything was indeed destroyed. The cosmonaut says he doesn't have much longer to live and will die in space, though he gets to exchange some wry Last banter with Strand. It's unknown if the cosmonaut was actually infected with the walker plague before he went into space and if he will turn or not upon death.
- The music video for Stuck In The Sound's Let's Go covers this.
- In the Vocaloid song "Near Future City," Kaito is the only Vocaloid who was apparently spared a view of the post-apocalyptic world, as he's in satellite in space. The other Vocaloids are alive, but they have to suffer the most for it.
- The animated video for Slightly Left of Centre's "Love The Way You Move" ends with Vladimir Putin destroying the Earth with a massive overload of funk, leaving a lone cosmonaut on the Moon giving a tearful salute.
- One The Far Side comic showed a pair of astronauts on the Moon watching as mushroom clouds erupt all over the Earth, to which one of them says to the other, "Well, what about this, Mr. 'We-Won't-Have-Time-for-Board-Games-in-Space'?"
- Arch Oboler's sci-fi/horror anthology radio show Lights Out once featured a story called "Rocket From Manhattan," in which astronauts on the first trip to the moon return to Earth to find a nuclear war had taken place in their absence. The bleak, crater-filled landscape on Earth reminds them eerily of the Moon itself.
- In Paranoia the apocalypse has happened, and every human still alive is either a genetic clone in Alpha Complex serving the Computer, or a primitive hunter-gatherer who lives Outside. Except for the Australians who live on the Moon, very comfortably. They apparently try to send down a message once in a while to see if anyone's still alive.
- In GURPS Reign of Steel, the Zoneminds who've enslaved humanity believe that Tranquility Base on the Moon has been destroyed. They're wrong.
- Rifts has the Mutants in Orbit setting, which was written for another, somewhat similar, game, but has rules for adapting it to the Rifts setting. At the time of the Coming of the Rifts, Earth had several populated satellites in Earth's orbit, as well as a Moon Base and a fledgling colony on Mars (though a mad scientist turned Mars into a world crawling with mutant Bee People). The colonies were all just barely self-sufficient enough to survive being cut off from Earth, and banded together to place defenses around the planet to keep away all the strangeness they can faintly see going on down there. They survive through trade and mining the Asteroid Belt.
- In Eclipse Phase, the Earth is destroyed by a nanite-fueled robot apocalypse and most of humanity with it. All that remains are the people who are living on in orbital space stations and various colonies among the solar system, and the game is about these people and how they get on in the aftermath.
- Something of a zig-zag on the trope, since the astronauts were a substantial fraction of the human population and already formed into their own independent nations before the fall. They weren't space explorers or even really colonists when Terra went down, though they were astronauts in the strictly literal sense if they live in a habitat.
- A number of people on Earth managed to escape the Fall by evacuating through the space elevators or Brain Uploading. There are billions of stored "Egos" waiting to be reinstantiated, possibly the majority of Earth's pre-Fall population. The Hypercorps like to use them for cheap labor in Indentured Servitude contracts promising a new body at the end of their term.
- Done on a galaxy-wide scale in Warhammer 40,000: the Warp storms from Slaanesh's birth were so severe they prevented all FTL Travel for centuries, leaving all of humanity cut off from each other (and particularly sucked for those planets who depend on imported food to feed themselves, and the ships nowhere near an inhabited planet). One of the main reasons the God-Emperor hasn't been taken off life-support (in theory, he could be released from his corpse and fight the Chaos gods on their own turf) is that this would cost humanity their sole point of reference in the Warp, cutting off FTL Travel for good.
- Body Harvest - Adam Drake and the scientists aboard the space station in 2016 are some of the last humans left alive after a century of alien attackers chowing down on humanity, and only just barely manage to escape aboard an experimental time machine to prevent this.
- In Super Robot Wars MX all the heroes manage to avoid being hit by the Third Impact because they're on a far-off space colony (as in, a Gundam-like colony).
- I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream involves the evil AI trying to find this last cache of humans hidden on a moon base after everyone else on Earth except the protagonists have been eradicated.
- Ares begins with humanity's first interstellar expedition making First Contact, after a decades-long voyage. Upon talking with these aliens, you learn that Earth is under new management since you left, owing to another, rather belligerent and powerful alien race. They're also unpopular with their neighbors, so you manage to wheedle some alien equipment out of them and retrofit the expedition to fight your way back to Earth and retake it.
- Star Control II has a broadly similar plot, except that you start the game off in a flying chunk of Lost Technology you've spent the last few years unearthing from the ruins of the Precursors. Also, most of the Syreen who managed to survive the destruction of their own planet were members of the Syreen Space Patrol. They were also mostly female. Of the 10,000 or so survivors, only about 500 were male.
- Millennium Return To Earth is about a moon base whose inhabitants got to watch as an asteroid strike destroyed human life on Earth. They're now colonizing the solar system to try and fix things.
- Then you find out about a Martian colony, which is hell-bent on destroying you for no reason in particular. The Martians are mutants, though.
- Also inverted at the end, after destroying the colony on Mars, you find out that there's an entire Martian battlefleet heading your way. If it's your first playthrough, then this trope will be once again played straight, as your main base on the Moon will be destroyed, requiring re-population from outlying colonies. If not, then you can prepare.
- Planet's Edge is an RPG where an alien ship appears in Earth's orbit, is fired upon, and does something that cripples it but causes the planet to vanish. The moon's doing fine, but the moonbase is not self-sufficient, so off the heroes go to the stars with a salvaged hyperdrive.
- Horribly, horribly subverted by 1213: a space station used to create clones for a different purpose altogether is saved when the human extinction event happens on Earth. The clones are retooled for exploration, but start dying of some sort of plague; the human scientists all either go insane, commit suicide, or are murdered when they discover that the world below is uninhabitable.
- In fact, the player doesn't even find out that this scenario is in place until very late in the game, just after the very, very, very last hope for humanity is crushed. Unless you count a single human capable of surviving planetside but whose memory can't store more than a few day's worth of material as a result, who has had every possible candidate for guide or backer shot to death within the last 24 hours and who unthinkingly released a zombie apocalypse on what's left of the space station as "hope". But what's he going to do?
- The basis of Homeworld. You spend the first several missions testing the capabilities of your shiny new Mothership before activating your Jump Drive for the first time. It isn't until after you finish your jump that you learn that your ancestors signed a treaty promising never to use Hyperspace technology. Your civilization had long forgotten their previous Ancient Astronauts origins. The Imperial Fleet your ancestors made a deal with has not.
- Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri is sort of an example; by the time the colony ship reaches Chiron all contact with Earth has been lost, and the epilogues for the Transcendence endings include recolonization of Earth. It isn't made explicit what exactly happened, but it seems to be some combination of war and environmental collapse. Even if it's being metaphorical, Planet seems to fear that it's let in what amounts to a new pathogen vector during its pre-ascendance "childhood." Given how some gamers play, that might not be so unreasonable.
You are the children of a dead planet, earthdeirdre, and this death we do not comprehend. We shall take you in, but may we ask this question—will we too catch the planetdeath disease?
- The intro actually shows multiple nuclear explosions, implying a nuclear war.
- Radiant Silvergun stars the only survivors of a planet-wide cataclysm that had occurred only a year prior. They had enough sense to stay off the surface after the fact, considering the entity that did it was still actively patrolling it. Unfortunately, they only had finite supplies to survive on, and the game picks up when that supply runs out.
- In the distant past of the X-Universe, humanity was engaged in a fight for survival against the self-replicating terraformers it had created, which then went haywire. One Nathan R Gunne led a feint intended to trick the "terraformers" into leaving Sol, then destroying the jumpgate behind them. Gunne survived the engagement, but his ship was disabled and crashed on a habitable planet. The surviving crew assumed the gambit had failed and they were the only remaining humans. They attempted to rebuild society, renaming themselves "Argon" in honor of their commander after his death. The Argon find out otherwise 700 years later when Kyle Brennan, an Earth State test pilot, suffered a malfunction in his experimental jumpdrive, stranding him in the X-Universe gate system in X: Beyond the Frontier.
- In X Rebirth, the Republic of Cantera is descended from Terran miners and garrison forces that were stranded in the barren system of DeVries when the jumpgate network shutdown. Mass famine followed, due to their food being shipped in from Earth. In the thirty odd years since the collapse, they've stabilized and regrown, but are surviving on collapsing space stations without the materials or tech base necessary to repair their infrastructure.
- Alien Legacy has multiple instances:
- The backstory is that Earth is losing a war against Absolute Xenophobe Centaurians and is sending out colony ships to remote systems with orders to maintain communication silence and assume Earth and all other ships are lost. You command one such ship, Calypso.
- The last messages indicate the destruction of the last Earth fleet and all off-planet installations and preparations for the Last Stand. There are no survivors in the Solar system.
- The colony ship Tantalus was launched later, but arrived some 21 years before Calypso, though you see no traces of it. At least, not at first. Later it's revealed that colonists on habitable planets were killed by local animals. Created by the same xenophobic race who created Centaurians and remote-controlled from an automated seedship. For other planets see below.
- If you abandon colonies on Earth-like planets Gaia and Rhea, your people on other planets and orbital stations start to die slowly. Due to the damage done by cold sleep chemicals, Calypso passengers and crew now need some anti-toxins that can only be harvested on Earth-like planets. It is never mentioned whether Tantalus faced the same problem or if they used more advanced cryo-storage process.
- Later in the game you find ruined human colonies on most planets. Most of them survived destruction of colonies on Rhea and Gaia, tried to live on, to wait until Calypso arrival or to fly to meet Callypso, but everybody were Driven to Suicide or got killed in seemingly random accidents. The last human died a year before your arrival. It is speculated that they could have survived if Tantalus wasn't dismantled, and they didn't loose most of their fleet fighting the seedship. At least they managed to destroy the seedship defences.
- In the best game ending you get FTL drive, powerful alien allies, near-immortality, telepathy, "transcendental radiation" and are ready to spread to other systems and take the war to Centaurians. Thus the trope is ultimately played straight.
- All of the Ronso in Final Fantasy X were killed except for the ones not at their homeland. (Like the Blitzball Team)
- The final entry into the Call of Duty: Zombies story for Call of Duty: Black Ops culminates in the destruction of the Earth by nukes filled with Element 115, thanks to the combined efforts of Maxis and Takeo, Dempsey, Nikolai, and Samantha to stop Richtofen. However, in Black Ops II, the story moves to the adventures of another group of survivors on the destroyed Earth, coping with the aftermath; leaving us to wonder what happened to the four who got stranded on the Moon after the missiles hit. The Zombies timeline at least confirmed that the soul-swapped Samantha was still around ten years later after the events of Buried, but no word on the other three before the universe is reset.
- Saints Row IV has the Boss and crew as the only free humans (of a few thousand, imprisoned in tanks) to survive the destruction of earth, as they had been abducted by the very aliens who destroyed the planet.
- The Bad Future of Mission Critical reveals that this will be the final solution of the UN in their losing war against the ELFs. As the ELFs are destroying the last human fortresses on Earth (the colonies having been already destroyed), the UN leadership activates the Tal-Seto Collapser, a Doomsday Device that starts an irreversible process that will result in the complete destruction of all star systems in the Tal-Seto network. A number of years prior to that, they sent a slower-than-light ship to a star system not on the network, ensuring that humanity will survive the collapse. When asked by the Player Character why the ELFs don't do the same, they reply that it is far too late for any STL ship launched now to reach a safe distance before the event. Their only hope is sending you back to before the game and altering the entire course of history.
- This is how Yagrum Bagarn, the last dwarf found in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, survived the global soul-trap that killed all dwemer. He had travelled to an "Outer Realm" during the event and was thus outside the soul-traps influence.
- The nuclear war that destroyed everything in its world but Laurentia in the Nexus Clash backstory was fought between nations that had space colonies that were theoretically supposed to be insurance against a planetary apocalypse. Unfortunately, the colonies themselves were easy targets for nuclear warheads when war did break out.
- Happens big time in Sluggy Freelance, when Torg and Aylee visit another dimension. The entire face of the planet has been overrun by "wraiths." The only people left alive are those aboard space stations at the time. Luckily, that universe had a far more extensive space program than our own.
- The reader finds out that not all humans died when World War IV changed the world of the Blade of Toshubi. There are four arks of humans in orbit waiting for the nano-virus to reach safe levels to return.
- Happens in The Perry Bible Fellowship comic "Space Disaster."
- TGSA has a Black Comedy strip that follows this. 
- Homestuck averts this. The trolls' home planet has been destroyed by meteors, but there are vast troll armies all around the galaxy. But an Eldritch Abomination that happens to live on the homeworld is killed, and its dying scream sends out a psychic shockwave that finishes the job.
- Would've been justified otherwise; the trolls can't reproduce without the help of a mother grub, all of which were killed when Alternia was destroyed.
- There is one exception. One troll, Her Imperious Condescension, who is off in a spaceship conquering distant civilizations, survives the psychic attack due to being the only one with the same blood color as said eldritch abomination.
- Averted rather spectacularly with humanity too; the newly prototyped Bec blows up Jade's meteor, which causes a massive explosion that eradicates basically EVERYTHING except some shells of structures.
- And in the Beta-Scratch universe, If there were any astronauts, they would be long dead from said I.C. bitch's slow brain poisoning from the ridiculous levels of propaganda and nega-reform. Long story short, she took over Earth in this universe and ground it into Eldritch Abomination feed because she hated HUMAN SEX.
- Averted in Rework the Dead the astronauts manning a Kill Sat ran out of oxygen a week after the Zombie Apocalypse started and the horde swarms all the spaceports. Though there are some survivors still on the surface.
- In the Katamari webcomic, the Cow-Loving Aliens were actually away from their home planet like when disaster struck. Other survivors managed to escape into space, and they were gathering them up before coming across earth. And since they're cow-like aliens, they got a little confused...
- The webcomic Closer to Home follows the Planet of the Apes example of having the astronauts be members of a deep space exploration team, and the world having ended a few years after they left.
- In the Ed stories on Everything2, the only things to survive in the Andromeda Galaxy were those making a hyperspace jump the instant things went wrong.
- Valuable Humans in Transit, also on E2, mentions extracting the plane travellers and spacemen along with the rest.
- SCP Foundation:** The only people who survive in the world accessed through SCP-093 are the higher ups who go into space. They're now waiting for the world to be purified.
- Most of the plans of XK End of the World Scenarios have the only survivors being on the Moon-base as an optimistic prospects.
- 1983: Doomsday includes an article on the plight of the two-man crew of the Soyuz T-9 mission.
- The Futurama episode "In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela" combines this with a twist on the classic Adam and Eve plot...but seems to forget its own canon that humans have colonized numerous other planets in the universe, such as Mars.
- Could lead to Fridge Brilliance when you take into account that Leela was dehydrated and gullible at the time and Zapp actually rigged the whole thing to make it seem like they were Adam and Eve in a strange planet and their world was destroyed (truth is it was Earth All Along) so she would be willing to have sex with him.
- In the Super Friends episode "Planet of the Neanderthals", a villain managed to take over the world by turning it into a stone-age version of itself, but it didn't affect Skylab. Skylab's technology becomes pivotal in foiling the villain's plans. Batman and Robin were working on Skylab at the time of the transformation, so they (and their Batrocket) were also unaffected.
- In the first season finale of Justice League, Vandal Savage changes history by sending information to himself in the past, and the only people unaffected when the Delayed Ripple Effect kicks in are a group of the Leaguers in Earth orbit. (Although it's not being out in space that protects them — the ripple reaches them and keeps going — they're all traveling in a bubble projected by Green Lantern's ring, which protects them somehow.)
- The history series Once Upon A Time Man ends with a possible dystopian future of Earth that descends into environmental collapse, massive world hunger and is finally devastated by nuclear war. However, this time also has considerable advances in space travel to have off planet self-sustaining orbital settlements and while they regret having to wait for potentially generations before Earth is habitable again, they are happy enough in space in the meantime.
- Highlander: The Animated Series has two episodes where people who left Earth before the asteroid impact that devastated the world come back. In one a space station crew who were in cryosleep are thawed out, in another one of the immortals who decided to take off and explore the galaxy comes back.
- Inverted in Rick and Morty, when Earth is teleported across the universe; Rick casually tells the President any astronauts in orbit are now dead.