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But What About the Astronauts?

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"Houston, YOU have a problem."
"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, following the Space Race, there have frequently been some humans not on Earth, and following the advent of the International Space Station, humans have maintained a continuous presence in space. 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, in which 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 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, so they could (in theory) return to Earth; as Soyuz capsules are designed with rough landings in mind thanks to their parachutes, even if a conventional facility is too badly damaged to use, the astronauts certainly have a few options, although it'll be quite a bumpy ride; in real life, most of the recent Soyuz landings have taken place in fields somewhere in the middle of Central Asia. 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, or in a remote landscape without much to gauge where they are, 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 
  • In 7 Seeds, 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 that their offspring is currently watching them.
  • The four main characters of Agravity Boys are space explorers who went into a wormhole leading to an inhabited planet a few days before the Earth was destroyed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • In Dragon Ball Z, the Saiyan homeworld, Vegeta, is destroyed by Frieza, with only the four Saiyans off the planet at the time (Goku/Kakarot, Raditz, Nappa and Prince Vegeta) surviving. If you count in movies/OVAs, then you have Turles, Broly and his father Paragus, and Vegeta'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 Frieza's purge.
      • In Dragon Ball Minus, this is explained as Frieza 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 Frieza's nose. Frieza did this specifically to kill as many as Saiyans as possible. The cover story that the planet was destroyed by meteors was invented so that any survivors wouldn't suspect Freeza and thus remain loyal to him.
    • At least two Namekians were launched into space to avoid the natural disasters that nearly wiped them out. Piccolo's father sent him to Earth. Lord Slug was also sent away as a baby, though the Funimation dub said he was banished for being evil.
  • Dr. STONE is set in a world where some unknown force turned every human (and for some reason swallows) into stone. Three thousand years in the future, Kohaku's village of forty is descended from some of the astronauts who came back from the International Space Station. One of those astronauts was Senku's father, who went on to found Ishigami Village and passed stories of his son down through the generations.
  • Ergo Proxy: The Creators (the last of the human race) stay aboard the Boomerang Star while the Earth recovers to become livable again.
  • In 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.
  • Gundam:
    • 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).
    • ∀ 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 ∀ Gundam.
  • Highschool 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 Remina, as the Martian and Lunar colonies are the first to be destroyed as the Planet Eater approaches Earth.
  • 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 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 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 American Dirty Pair comic miniseries Sim Hell has the Lovely Angels trapped in the 3WA's network and going through a succession of Virtual Training Simulations. The story establishes that the Nanoclysm destroyed the Earth That Was by first having them try to survive a scenario in a space station orbiting Earth at the time of the outbreak. Despite the chaos that erupts at the news, they have a much easier time surviving than the next scenario, where they need to escape an undersea laboratory that was already infected.
  • In 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. The astronauts wait for the nuclear stuff to dissipate and return to a ravaged Earth.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Presents): Charlie-27 missed out on the invasion of the solar system, and the nigh-eradication of mankind, because he was off on a space mission on his own when it happened.
  • One Lobo story has Lobo being sent to capture his fourth grade teacher, who was off-world when he bioengineered flying scorpions to wipe out his race.
  • Marvel Zombies: The Acolytes on Asteroid M are some of the only characters to escape infection.
  • 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.
  • The eponymous character in Storm (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.
  • Superman:
    • A lot of Kryptonians 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 the Kryptonian global government started putting them in the Phantom Zone.
    • "The Super Dog from Krypton": Krypto the Superdog was in an experimental rocket sailing through the space when the planet exploded. Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths comics Hand Waved 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.
    • "The Super-Duel in Space": Superman finds out that the city of Kandor and its population survived by being shrunk and abducted by Brainiac (becoming an involuntary colony in the collection room of his spaceship) before the planet Krypton’s destruction.
    • Continuity flip-flops about what happened with any Kryptonian efforts to colonize other worlds and when they took place, but in most continuities, most died off or were called back home because Krypton was upset about turning into conquerors.
      • Mongul's debut arc reveals that thousands of Kryptonians tried to leave their home world with an alien visitor for a religious pilgrimage but were poisoned because expansion-hating Science Council members had used chemicals to make all Kryptonians need close exposure to their atmosphere to survive off-world (something subsequent stories have retconned).
      • Colonists on the planet Daxam refused to come home and thrived, but they'd evolved into a new species by interbreeding with the natives by then.
      • Like the Daxamites, the Phaelosians are Kryptonian descendants whose ancestors inadvertently saved them from the planet’s destruction by starting a new culture on another world generations earlier, living as peaceful farmers before being conquered and enslaved by Mongul.
      • The Third Kryptonian describes how dozens of Kryptonian soldiers and colonists outside of Daxam refused to come home due to enjoying their new superpowers, but within a few generations, most of them were hunted down and killed by a One-Man Army space pirate out for revenge after one of Zod’s ancestors ravaged the pirate’s home world.
      • Green Lanterns briefly features a group of early Kryptonian space explorers stranded on an inhospitable planet. Between constant dust storms and their small gene pool, it is unknown whether they survived and colonized the planet or died soon after their leader was taken off-planet to become a Green Lantern and never had a chance to return.
    • In Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, Argo City is Krypton's lunar colony (the city is on the surface of the planet and survives with a force field in most other continuities), and the moon was only sent to another dimension rather than destroyed by the force of Krypton exploding and has been enduring quite well ever since.
  • 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 prequel comic series to WALLE 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.
  • 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.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In "Maid Maleen", a princess and her maid are sealed away in a tower with no door or windows during seven years as a punishment for the former's rebellious ways. Seven years later, Maleen and her chambermaid are running out of food, but there are no indication that someone is trying to release them, so they decide to break through out of their prison. When they get out, they discover some enemy destroyed their country and killed everybody while they were ironically safe inside their tomb.

    Fan Works 
  • The End of the World (FernWithy): In-universe, The Final Eight mentions that one of Finch's favorite books is about four astronauts who return from a space mission after the disaster that killed 99% of humanity and experience culture shock while adjusting to the new Panem.
  • In Left Beyond, this is actually a major plot point, since the Omega hope that people living in space will be spared the White Throne Judgement. They aren't, but the fact that their souls get to the Judgement last due to travel time means that they are able to restart the human race.
  • One of the Ponies After People side stories is about finding a way to rescue the people trapped on the ISS.
  • In Worldwar: War of Equals, The Race boarded the ISS and take all on board hostage two days before the invasion.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Played with in the 2013 Spanish movie Al Final Todos Mueren, in which 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.
  • In the Syfy 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 Day After Tomorrow: The astronauts on the ISS survive 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.
  • This is the main premise of Def-Con 4: After the End, the astronauts have to get back to Earth and then survive there.
  • The inhabitants of a spaceship survive in The Doomsday Machine when the titular device destroys Earth; it turns out they were chosen specifically for an Adam and Eve Plot.
  • Iron Sky has a version of this, as 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. The sequel takes place 29 years later, with the former Nazi moonbase holding the only known survivors of the nuclear war, although a ship of Russian refugees arrives at the beginning of the movie. The moonbase is destroyed by the end too, but most of the survivors board an evacuation ship bound for Mars. This time, the ending is less ambiguous, showing a full-blown hammer-and-sickle-shaped city on Mars with Sputnik-shaped ships in orbit.
  • The premise of I.S.S.. The crew of the International Space Station witness a nuclear war on Earth, and then the American and Russian crew members receive secret orders to capture the I.S.S. for their respective nations.
  • James Bond:
    • This is Stromberg's plan in The Spy Who Loved Me: to trigger global thermonuclear war between the East and West, with the survivors hiding in a submarine base instead of in space. Stromberg hasn'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 thinks that only civilization will be destroyed, not the whole world.
    • This is also Hugo Drax's plan in the following film, Moonraker: to wipe out humanity on Earth with a nerve gas while a few selected individuals survive on his space station.
  • Love (2011) 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.
  • The Midnight Sky turns on this trope: returning astronauts finding some undescribed disaster has killed almost everyone not in the polar regions.
  • 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.
  • Pandorum 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.
  • Planet of the Apes:
    • Planet of the Apes (1968): The cynical Colonel Taylor occasionally speculates that the people of Earth destroyed themselves in a nuclear war after he and his crewmates left on their mission to explore another star. The note the film ends on proves him right.
    • Rise of the Planet of the Apes: A space shuttle takes off on a mission to Mars right before the Simian Flu kills most of humanity, although it has yet to be seen whether this is a mere Continuity Nod to the original film or if the astronauts will return later.
  • The Postman actually mentions this explicitly, with the former designer of the Galileo space station talking about his creation with the descriptor of "twelve skeletons orbiting the Earth all grinnin' at each other".
  • 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.
  • Rubikon is about the inhabitants of a space station debating whether or not to return to Earth and search for survivors after a catastrophe leaves the planet covered in a toxic fog.
  • After the destruction of the planet Vulcan in Star Trek (2009), 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.
  • Star Wars:
    • In A New Hope, Alderaanians who were offworld when the Death Star destroyed their home planet are 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; The Mandalorian adds Cara Dune, an ex-Rebel shock trooper who was originally from Alderaan.
    • In The Force Awakens, the planets of the Hosnian system, the capital of the New Republic, were destroyed by the First Order's Starkiller base, a planet-sized version of the Death Star, as well as the entire New Republic home fleet, leaving only the Republic's covert operations wing, the Resistance, surviving. The Last Jedi implies that there are still remnants of the fleet and allies of the Republic, but the complete destruction of the entire capital planets means that none of them respond to General Leia's calls for help out of fear of the First Order.
  • Superman:
    • 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, and were freed from their imprisonment after the planet exploded. This was (respectively) when a nuclear blast disrupted the Zone, or because there was no one left to keep the zone closed.
    • In Supergirl (1984), the citizens of the domed city of Argo survived the destruction of Krypton. Argo is floating in a pocket dimension outside of real space. It is unclear whether the citizens colonized the dimension before Krypton was destroyed or transported the city there to survive being destroyed, but either way, they want to make it back to their home dimension but have a hard time doing so with Krypton gone.

  • 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 iron,note  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.
  • After Doomsday features two human ships — a viable population actually, once they link up with each other as one crew is all male while the other is all female — 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. The trope is invoked when it's reported that an alien trader sold a Doomsday Device to several Earth nations that would detonate automatically in event of an attack. This raises the possibility that Earth basically committed suicide in a war. However, it's pointed out that if the report is true, wouldn't the nations concerned establish off-world colonies as a precaution?
  • Aniara details the voyage of the space liner Aniara after being accidentally ejected into deep space and towards Vega (the 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.
  • A non-human example in 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.
  • Black Tide Rising: The ISS was provided with an experimental re-entry vehicle designed exclusively for ground landing, under the assumption that the Zombie Apocalypse would make recovery at sea impossible. Also, they all have compromised immune systems, and need a mobile clean-room to ferry them from the lander to a permanent clean room, where they remain until the vaccine kicks in.
  • From Alastair Reynolds' 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.
  • CoDominium: The Co-Dominium between the US and the USSR which governs Earth breaks down into a final nuclear war. The resulting First Empire of Man arises from the colony world of Sparta slowly agrigating other colony worlds.
  • Down in the Dark 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.
  • When this is brought up in Down to a Sunless Sea, Surprisingly Realistic Outcome happens. During a bout of self-pity, the narrator, the pilot of a passenger jet that is left struggling to find a place to land (nearly everywhere he could have landed was either wiped out by the missiles or is being irradiated by fallout) contemplates how the four astronauts who were on the moon at the time, noting that they have it far worse off than he does and are even less likely to survive.
  • In Eight Worlds, 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 The End and Afterwards, the crew and passengers of the starship Endeavour are physicially unaffected by Star Pioneer impacting Earth, as are the crew of Moonbase. After rescuing as many people as they can from Earth, Endeavour proceeds to Alpha Centauri while Moonbase works to complete a second starship (and trying to coordinate and help as many survivors as they can), transforming the Starship Project from a simple colonization program to full-scale Homeworld Evacuation.
  • 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.
  • Kind of used in 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.note  However, as another ice age is fast descending upon the Earth, it looks like it could become a straight example...
  • The short story anthology Grants Pass centers around the same shared universe where a series of plagues have wiped out nearly all of Earth's population. It includes the story "Ascension" by Martin Livings, in which two cosmonauts stranded on the International Space Station contemplate their options.
  • At one point in Have Space Suit – Will Travel, 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 the 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.
  • 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.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • A variant occurs in the Backstory to the 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.
    • The companion book House of Steel provides a big Info Dump regarding the universe, include a concise history of the Protectorate of Grayson, a Lost Colony that fell into a religiously-motivated civil war. The folks in orbit support the Protector (the head of government on Grayson), and while the folks opposing him don't care for the folks in space, they at least initially lack the ability to attack them. Eventually the rebels do start attacking the orbital habitats, and so the Grayson Space Guard, a Space Police force that previously focused on helping spacers in distress, proceed to attack the rebels back.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's 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.
  • 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.
  • "The Last Commmand" by Arthur C. Clarke has 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 using their nukes, they are to return to Earth and help the survivors — meaning, to be clear, the country that just nuked their homeland — rebuild. The final twist: the space station is a Soviet space station, and the unnamed (now-deceased) Soviet leader is ordering them to help the American survivors of the war.
  • 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.
  • In the German SF series Maddrax, set centuries After the End, the ISS is still in orbit and the (organic) Applied 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.
  • 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 the Mars Nation trilogy by the German sci-fi author Brandon Q. Morris (real name: Matthias Matting), two Mars expeditions (two others joined in later) had to suddenly fend for themselves after all radio contact to Earth was suddenly lost (everyone interpreted the radio silence as either humanity or at the very least civilization having been destroyed by some unknown disaster).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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. The follow-up story 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.
  • In The Stainless Steel Rat books, it's eventually revealed that by the time Earth was destroyed by "He", there was already a sizable colony on Mars. It's from Mars that humanity eventually spread out to the stars.
  • Star Wars Legends reveals that thousands of citizens of Alderaan were off-world when the Empire blew up the planet, doing things like visiting relatives or attending sporting events on their sister planet Delaya (Rebel Force), conducting anti-piracy patrols in the outskirts of the system (Star Wars: Razor's Edge), setting up a hunting preserve in the Ryloth system (Star Wars Empire), serving in the Imperial Navy (X-Wing Series), touring the galaxy for poetry readings, working as celebrity chefs, or teaching or studying at off-world University of Alderaan outposts (The Illustrated Star Wars Universe), overseeing House of Thul interstellar business interests (Young Jedi Knights), or taking an off-world school trip (Galaxy of Fear).
  • 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. Ultimately, the station's orbit decays and it burns up in the Earth's atmosphere, at just the right moment to break through cloud cover and letting in enough sunlight save the heroes from pursuing vampires. There are hints that the station's trajectory and breakup may have been divinely guided for this exact purpose.
  • The 1980s 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.
  • 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 Moon base protected by the bulk of the Moon is the only spark of civilization left to rebuild the world. (South and Central America are hand waved away.)
  • In 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 of survivors.
  • 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.
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate follows a crew of astronauts exploring a solar system fourteen light years away from Earth. One day, they realize that they haven't received any updates for months and something very bad must have happened fourteen years ago. Years go by until they learn what happened from a message from a returning mission to Earth: a massive geomagnetic storm fried Earth's electronics and satellites.
  • The few offworld colonies and colony ships become this in Variable Star when something makes the Sun go nova halfway through the book.
  • In Sheri S. Tepper's The Visitor, an oncoming asteroid has Earth's nations cooperating to place colonies on the Moon and Mars.
  • 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.
  • Zones of Thought: 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".

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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, but they're more than a bit hostile. When life on Earth gets erased again at the end of season 4, this happens on a smaller scale with the few who returned to the Ark, as well as the return of the miners.
  • In Andromeda, Earth had been conquered and enslaved by a Nietschian faction. However, since humans had long since spread out across two galaxies, most had no connection to the world anymore. A straighter example is in the final season where The Abyss destroys Earth leaving Harper, the only main character actually native to Earth, in this situation.
  • In Babylon 5, the Markab species is struck with a deadly plague near the close of the second season. It is specifically noted that because of their refusal to admit to being infected and their government's denial of the threat, the plague spread to all off-world colonies before its effects became too pronounced to ignore. When it progresses to its terminal phase, the species is wiped out en masse. Mention is made that there were probably some isolated individuals on spaceships or more remote colonies who survived, but given how limited their numbers would be the species as a whole has been rendered functionally extinct.
  • 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.
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: 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.
  • 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.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Ark in Space", 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 chance to repopulate the Earth once it recovered from the devastation.
    • This is the Doctor's justification for considering frying the brains 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.
  • 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 the entire world was afflicted by the walker plague. The cosmonaut says he doesn't have much longer to live and will die in space, though he gets to exchange some wry 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 into a walker after he dies.
  • 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.
  • Krypton: Referenced indirectly. Krypton has three moons, and while only one is described as having a "completely self-sufficent, fully sustainable colony", that also seems to indicate that the other two moons have colonies more dependent on the planet (or at least they are during the main series). What happens to those moons and their colonists after Krypton is destroyed in the original timeline is unclear, although the two non self-sufficent ones would have been in for a rough time. While the third moon, Wegthor, is destroyed during the course of the series, the chain of events that causes this happens due to history changing, making it unclear what happened to it in the old timeline.
  • 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.
  • Speculative documentaries like Life After People will 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 early 1970s, will continue to be perfectly pristine for centuries.
  • Lois & Clark: In season 4, Superman learns that he is not the last surviving Kryptonian and at least a thousand others were traveling through space on a colonization mission when the planet exploded.
  • 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.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Phobos Rising", 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. A shockwave from the destruction of a planetary body hits Mars and Earth goes quiet, leading to fears at the bases that they're the only humans left. Despite that desperation, the bases end up destroying each other, leaving only two survivors. The end of the episode has a message from Earth reach the survivors, telling them that the Moon was destroyed in the development of a superweapon gone wrong, and while Earth is picking up the pieces, humanity is looking towards the factions' Mars bases as a symbol of cooperation and unity.
  • 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 Isinia). However, no mention of the baddies hunting down any Sirian colonies is made, and Isinia'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.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series:
      • In "The Alternative Factor", Lazarus claims to have escaped the destruction of his entire civilisation at the hands of his nemesis because he was in space, inspecting communication satellites, at the time. But, given that he isn't entirely truthful about anything else this may also be a lie.
      • "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.
    • In the Star Trek: Enterprise Reset Button episode "Twilight", 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.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): The episode "Probe 7 Over and Out" combines this with an Adam and Eve Plot. An astronaut crash lands on a distant planet and when he contacts his homeworld, he finds them on the brink of nuclear war which will wipe out all life on the planet. He then finds another survivor from another world stranded with him and they begin a new life together on this new planet which they name "Earth".
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): The episode "Quarantine" has an engineer from the 20th Century who was cryogenically frozen revived by a post-WWIII community of psychics because a United States spacecraft that enabled the nation's leaders to escape the nuclear war by traveling through space at relativistic speeds (causing Time Dilation) is now returning to Earth after centuries. The ship is carrying weapons and the post-apocalyptic community fears that they will try to take over their now-peaceful society. They trick the engineer into using an old killer satellite to destroy the spacecraft before it can land on Earth.

    Music and Music Videos 
  • The Butthole Surfers song "The Last Astronaut" is an astronaut in orbit around Earth reporting back to ground control and realizing that something terrible — implied to be nuclear war — has just broken out, leaving him stranded and possibly the last man alive.
  • The music video for Stuck in the Sound's "Let's Go" covers this.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lucius Voltaic's "When We Left Earth Behind" is a Filk Song about this.

  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Eclipse Phase, the Earth is laid to waste by a robot apocalypse after a hard AI takeoff event, and most of humanity with it. All that remains are the 5% who were managed to narrowly escape, living in a space habitat, or on one of the various colonies in the solar system. It's 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 Earth went down, though they were astronauts in the strictly literal sense if they live in a habitat. A number of people on Earth also managed to escape the Fall by evacuating through the space elevators or Brain Uploading. There are millions of stored "Egos" waiting to be reinstated. The Hypercorps like to use them for cheap labor in Indentured Servitude contracts promising a new body at the end of their term.
  • The End of the World: In the post-apocalyptic stage of "Nanopocalypse", it's specifically mentioned that the astronauts aboard the International Space Station are safe from the Grey Goo scenario, as none of the nanobots have been able to leave Earth's atmosphere... but with no fuel, no means of building a new rocket, and likely nobody left alive who could pilot it, Earth won't be able to resupply the space station or send a rescue party, condemning the astronauts to slowly starve to death in space.
  • In GURPS Reign of Steel, the Zoneminds who've enslaved humanity believe that Tranquility Base on the Moon has been destroyed. They're wrong.
  • Neuroshima has the Orbital, a still functional pre-war international space station. At least five astronauts are still alive up there, but, as the communication was cut off relatively early, they know little beyond the fact that the world was devastated in a war and can only speculate on the details. The station seems to be equipped with some sort of hibernation device, so most of the crew is asleep with only one person actively manning the station at any given time. They spend most of their time using the comm-station to transmit stuff like survival tips, cooking recipes, music, poetry, unassorted stories and mental breakdowns. Those transmissions can be received using even crude radio equipment, although only for short period when the station is passing overhead, and they are a popular source of entertainment, as regular radio stations are long gone. Practically no one possesses a transmitter powerful enough to send anything back to the Orbital, so the astronauts have no way of knowing, if anyone even listens to them.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Done on a galaxy-wide scale in Warhammer 40,000: the Warp storms from Slaanesh's birth were so severe they prevented all Faster-Than-Light 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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?
  • This is the basic premise of 60 Parsecs!. The game begins with a nuclear apocalypse on Earth, and goes on to follow a group of survivors on a space station who grabbed what supplies they could find, leaped into an escape pod and were blasted sixty parsecs away from Earth.
  • In Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, it doesn't become apparent until a second playthrough, but Gargoyle Squadron turns out to have secret orders to destroy the Lighthouse in Mission 4. One of the Gargoyle pilots asks IUN HQ how "they" are going to get back home without the space elevator, to which HQ dismissively replies "That ship's not one of ours." They are talking about the Pilgrim One space shuttle, and the IUN doesn't care about them because they're Osean astronauts, while the IUN is a Usean entity.
  • 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 Calypso, 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.
  • A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In the backstory of The Elder Scrolls, the Dwemer were an incredibly advanced scientific race, capable of creating Steampunk and Magitek technology far beyond what any other race in the series is capable of even thousands of years later. However, in the 1st Era, during an attempt to tap into the power of the heart of a dead god, the entire race disappeared without a trace from the face of Nirn. There are many conflicting accounts and theories about what happened, but it remains a Riddle for the Ages. However, as revealed in Morrowind, at least one Dwemer survived — Yagrum Bagarn — who was in an undescribed "outer realm" when the calamity occurred that wiped out his people. He returned to find them gone, caught the Corprus Disease soon after, and then entered the care of the famed wizard/Corprus researcher Divayth Fyr. Later, in Skyrim, the wizard Falion claims to have encountered other Dwemer in realms outside of normal space-time who have presumably survived in a similar fashion to Bagarn.
  • In Evolve Idle, this is the basis of the Cataclysm scenario, which tasks the player with surviving and ultimately performing a Bioseed reset after their homeworld is literally shaken apart by the World Collider.
  • All of the Ronso in Final Fantasy X were killed except for the ones not at their homeland (such as the Blitzball team). The sequel reveals that there were enough for the species to survive, but they're naturally really, really pissed at the Guado, since Seymour, the one who killed the Mt. Gagazet Ronso, was one of their leaders.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: "Somehow Further Hildibrand Adventures" revolves around an alien named PuPu searching for his lost friend. The two are the Last of Their Kind, their home civilization having been destroyed in the Final Days, a fate PuPu and his friend managed to escape only because they happened to be away exploring the cosmos at the time.
  • The basis of Homeworld. You spend the first couple missions testing the capabilities of your shiny new Mothership before activating your Jump Drive for the first time. It isn't until after jumping back home and finding it on fire that you learn your ancestors signed a treaty promising never to use Hyperspace technology. Your civilization had long forgotten their previous Ancient Astronauts origins. The Empire your ancestors made a deal with has not.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn: Specifically averted in the data logs, where it's pointed out that even though the astronauts might survive the impending destruction of all cellular life on Earth, there will be effectively nothing for them to come back to, and they'll just starve to death eventually like anyone trying to hide in a bunker. There was an attempt at a colony ship, but its engines exploded before it could get far.
  • 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.
  • In Iron Lung, the astronauts are all that's left of humanity. An event called "the Quiet Rapture" caused every habitable planet and every living star to simply vanish, leaving behind only uninhabitable moons, spaceships, and space stations. Those who were not on a planetary surface represent all of surviving humanity... all fewer than 800 of them.
  • In Mass Effect: Andromeda, this is the secret true objective behind the Andromeda Initiative. To put a viable population of humans, salarians, asari, turians, and krogan (plus some of the other races on their own Ark) outside the reach of the impending Reaper invasion. Depending on the ending of the original trilogy, the Andromeda Initiative colonists may be all that's left 700 years later.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • When the D'ni civilization from Myst was destroyed by a universally lethal plague, their dimension-hopping technology meant that a number of people survived by being on other worlds at the time. If the Player Character is successful in all of their quests, Atrus is eventually able to find enough of these survivors to kick-start a viable new D'ni civilization elsewhere. D'ni itself was an example, being founded by some of those that fled the lost age of Garternay (as was Terahnee, which Atrus accidentally destroyed).
  • The nuclear war that destroyed everything in its world but Laurentia in the backstory of Nexus Clash 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.
  • 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,note  but the moonbase is not self-sufficient, so off the heroes go to the stars with a salvaged hyperdrive.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the intro shows multiple nuclear explosions, implying a nuclear war. 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?
  • Happens over and over again in Star Control II, mostly as part of the game's backstory. In chronological order:
    • Thousands of years ago, the Mael-Num (or "Melnorme", as they're known today) lost their homeworld during the First Doctrinal Conflict between the two subspecies of Ur-Quan. They had enough warning to evacuate the entire planet before it was destroyed, though, so they're in much better shape than the rest of the species on this list.
    • Fifty to a hundred or so years ago, Syra, homeworld of the Syreen, was completely sterilized by the birth of a Mycon Deep Child. Only those who happened to be in space at the time — around ten thousand individuals — survived.
    • Twenty years ago, the Ur-Quan slave-shielded the Earth and all humanity with it, leaving only the humans on Unzervalt out. Since a slave shield cuts off any possible contact with the surface, the effect is largely the same as if it had been destroyed.
    • Shortly after that, the Shofixti's entire solar system was destroyed when the Shofixti themselves detonated a precursor bomb in the sun, causing it to go nova. The nova also incinerated a good chunk of the Ur-Quan fleet in what has to be the biggest "If I go down, I'm taking you with me" moment in history. There are still two males and a handful of females left, though, so if you can get them together, you can revive their race in a few months or so.
    • The Captain, who was born and raised on Unzervalt, was cut of from what he considers his homeworld when the Ur-Quan discover and slave-shield it just after he left.
    • This also happens to any Spathi captains you happen to have in your fleet at the moment when the Spathi slave-shield their own world.
  • 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).
  • X:

  • The reader finds out that not all humans died when World War IV changed the world of Blade of Toshubi. There are four arks of humans in orbit waiting for the nano-virus to reach safe levels to return.
  • 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.
  • Homestuck:
    • Averted with the trolls. Their home planet has been destroyed by meteors, but there are vast troll armies all around the galaxy... until 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.
    • 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.
  • 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. Since they're cow-like aliens, they got a little confused...
  • The webcomic Moon You has a suicidal astronaut who was accidentally left behind after a lunar mission watch as Earth is struck by a meteor. Plays with the trope by having a good portion of humanity actually survive (unknown to the astronaut) and views him as the pinnacle of humanity through the few, one-way camera feeds of a him doing mundane and silly activities.
  • Happens in The Perry Bible Fellowship comic "Space Disaster".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • TGSA has a Black Comedy strip that follows this.
  • xkcd: Addressed in strip #865, "Nanobots", in which a Grey Goo scenario is being observed from the space station.

    Web Originals 
  • 1983: Doomsday includes an article on the plight of the two-man crew of the Soyuz T-9 mission.
  • Dinosaurs: The True Story: At the end of the short, the dinosaur astronauts are still up on the moon, now stuck there and left looking at the end of the world from up in the sky.
  • Averted is "Et si Cthulhu était réel ?" ("What if Cthulhu was real?") by AlterHis (a French Alternate History-themed Youtube channel). At one point, the narration imagines that Cthulhu's awakening is accompanied by a global psychic mindblast which turns almost every human into either a catatonic shell or a brainwashed rabid animal; the narration mentions in passing that the people who were in outer space aren't spared.
  • Everything2:
    • In the Ed stories, 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 travelers 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.
    • "Straight On Till Morning" is a series of stories concerning what the top-secret astronauts of the Foundation (and their rivals) do after the Earth is teleported out of the solar system by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
    • In one tale, SCP-2399 manages to destroy the earth, leaving behind a pair of foundation astronauts on the moon. The rest of their lives are spent alone there, desperately calling through their radios in the vain hope that someone will answer.

    Western Animation 
  • 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. Granted, the whole thing is Zapp's fraud committed on a (dehydrated) Leela so she'd be willing to have sex with him.
  • Highlander: The Animated Series has two episodes in which 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.
  • Il Était Une Fois... l'Homme 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.
  • In the Justice League story "The Savage Time", 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's orbit. However, the ripple does in fact reach them in space; a bubble from John's Green Lantern Ring prevents the ripple from affecting them.
  • Inverted in the Rick and Morty episode "Get Schwifty" when Earth is teleported across the universe; Rick casually tells the President any astronauts in orbit are now dead.
  • Word of God says that if Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) had got a third season, Moebius would have been revealed as Earth All Along where aliens had wiped out humanity and accidentally uplifted all the animals. Robotnik and Snively were the last humans who were offworld on a colonization project but killed the rest of their crew and arrived home centuries later due to Time Dilation.
  • In the Superfriends episode "Planet of the Neanderthals", a villain manages to take over the world by turning it into a stone-age version of itself, but it doesn't affect Skylab. Skylab's technology becomes pivotal in foiling the villain's plans. Batman and Robin are working on Skylab at the time of the transformation, so they (and their Batrocket) are also unaffected.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender:
    • The remaining Altean population survived the destruction of their home planet by being descended from those who were offworld at the time.
    • The Galra were already an empire when their planet was destroyed.