Something about the deep recesses of outer space seems to inspire insanity in a lot of fictional characters. Maybe it's the loneliness (what with them being cut-off from the rest of their kind), the feeling of insignificance it inspires, or more specifically to a story the things that mankind was never meant to encounter. And as if the deprivation of social interaction isn't bad enough, there is also the effect of spending too many weeks with nothing productive to do between course corrections. Then there's the added lack of basic features of the environment on Earth such as gravity strong enough to feel, days and nights, and an atmosphere which leads the human mind that can't handle the emptiness itself, for any length of time, to start making things up to fill it. Regardless, a good chunk of fiction seems to link outer space with insanity. Can occur with Ludicrous Speed.
The trope takes its name from an episode of The Ren & Stimpy Show, about, well, Ren's space madness (and only Ren's, because his moronic sidekick Stimpy seems to be immune). It is of course an example of SpaceX.
- Infinite Ryvius. After being isolated in space with no supervision, the children on the Ryvius turn on each other quickly and cruelly. In addition to the Humans Are the Real Monsters elements of the series, the madness might also be partly a result of the Applied Phlebotinum used in the Vaia ships, given that the captains of Blue Impulse and Grey Geshpenst also go insane.
- Planetes spends a large portion of its run dealing with space madness, when a member of the team of space garbage collectors becomes separated from their craft in the depths of space and ends up combating the fear of being alone by convincing themselves that all people are meant to be alone.
- In an early episode of Captain Harlock, Tadashi Daiba comes down with a case of space madness on his first trip in space. He has some strange hallucinations before collapsing.
- At one point late in ∀ Gundam, some of the soldiers being transported from Earth to the Moon on the Will Game decide they don't like it in space, get drunk, and try to float back down to Earth in barrels.
- An early Legion of Super-Heroes story has Sun Boy snapping from too many consecutive deep space missions, after which the Legion Constitution was amended to require mandatory downtime every so often.
- 2000 AD:
- The series Ace Trucking Co. features a condition called "Isolation Syndrome" or "Abbo Dabbo" as a recurring element.
- A Tharg's Future Shocks short story called 'Solo Flip' concerns an astronaut, alone on a long-duration interstellar flight, who eventually goes mad, throws himself out of an airlock... and lands on a pile of mattresses. It turns out that it's just a simulation designed to weed out the psychologically unstable.
- In 52, Animal Man is told not to look out the spaceship's windows for too long because it tends to cause existential crises. For extra humor, the man who gives him this advice is blind.
- Storm of the X-Men suffers a milder version of this due to the fact that she was away from the Earth and feels a disconnect returning. After spending some time on the streets of Tokyo with Wolverine's friend Yukio (who considers herself a bit mad), she decides to get a new look involving leather and a Mohawk. She eventually gets better.
- EC Comics: "Marbles", a story in Incredible Science Fiction #30, involves the first crewed mission into space on board the X-17, a spaceship designed with every comfort and precaution in mind. After three weeks, everyone on board is claiming that the universe is actually incredibly tiny and that they're playing with the planets like rubber balls, ring-tossing with Saturn, and so on. As the ship plummets to Earth, the mission commander notes solemnly that the sheer vastness of space made them completely, well, lose their marbles.
- Discussed but downplayed in The Next Frontier. As noted in the Real Life section, manned (or rather kerballed) spaceflight is not very exciting or hands-on and there isn't a whole lot for the crew to do most of the time.
- In Rocketship Voyager, space madness is just a catchall phrase for any number of psychological conditions. In Captain Janeway's Backstory, she and several other female crewmembers mutinied against their officers who wanted to use them as a Baby Factory. To avoid an embarrassing court-martial, the women were described as having merely 'detained' their officers for their own safety after they went space-mad (it didn't hurt that the captain had Gone Mad From The Isolation after being sealed up in an airlock by the mutineers). Exposure to the infinity of space can also lead to insanity: fishbowl helmets have focal points painted on them to prevent this, and Captain Janeway has a brief panic attack when she's sealed up in a cargo rocket and shot out of a torpedo tube.
- In the film Armageddon, this is the justification for the loopy Russian space station attendant. He'd been alone up there for quite a while. Rock Hound, on the other hand, suddenly comes down with "Space Dementia" and starts shooting everything with the remote-controlled Gatling gun they brought along for some reason. Mind you, these guys weren't all that sane to start with.
- Dr. Reinhardt from The Black Hole commanded a massive starship of his own design. He became increasingly unstable and refused to return to Earth. He became obsessed with a black hole he and his ship discovered, and being a genius, he designed an anti-gravity system to prevent the ship from being pulled in. When his crew rebelled, he used the ship's robotic sentries against his crew and turned them into cybernetic slaves. By the time another Earth ship finds him, he is thoroughly insane and planning to journey inside the black hole.
- Sunshine features several cases of space madness of varying severity, from the mild (becoming addicted to close-range suntanning) to the severe: "Mankind was not meant to tamper in the domain of God! Die!"
- Subverted in Outland. Federal Marshal O'Niel is trying to find out why miners on Io are going insane and killing themselves. At first, it seems like they're cracking up under the pressure of living in grimy, crowded, dangerous conditions far from Earth — 28 have died in the last six months, with 24 in the six months prior. However, when O'Niel is told that only two died in the six months before that, he realizes that something's fishy.
- Played for Laughs in Dark Star, where the entire crew has gone visibly unhinged from five years stuck inside cramped space, performing a thankless job that nobody wants and having nothing to do.
- This trope figures largely into the plot of Pandorum. "Pandorum" is actually their term for space madness; it's described as resulting from a combination of paranoia, emotional stress, and the physiological stresses of deep-space travel. However, the Human Popsicle process might also have some influence on it.
- In Conquest of Space, the doctor on the Wheel diagnoses one man who cracks up as having "somatic dysphasia", described in Layman's Terms as "space fatigue". Apparently, everyone working in outer space suffers from it, but the symptoms are usually minor, and easily cured by returning the patient to Earth. For those selected for the first Mars expedition, already under stress through the competitive selection process, the issue is more serious. The general in charge of the mission begins to crack, and in a religious fervor tries to sabotage the spacecraft in the belief that Man is not meant to leave planet Earth.
- This trope is arguably the whole driving force behind Silent Running. Freeman Lowell is clearly somewhat on edge from the start, though in this case it has more to do with his sense of responsibility in protecting what remains of Earth's forests. By the time he receives orders to destroy them, he's willing to murder his crewmates (even letting one of the forest-protecting domes be destroyed in the process). Then he slowly starts to lose it through a mix of being alone with only two robots and the occasional voice on the radio for company, guilt over the deaths of his partners and accidentally running over one of the two robots), and eventually grief upon realizing that the forest is dying, to the point where he can't quite think straight enough to figure out why despite being a botanist. By the time it's all over, he is willing to detonate a nuclear explosive on board the ship while he's still on it.
- In Mutiny In Outer Space, the commander of the Space Station is suffering from 'space raptures', which cause hallucinations and affect judgment. This is bad news when the station has become contaminated by an alien fungus, thus leading to the eponymous 'mutiny' as the crew attempt to remove him from command.
- Ad Astra: Astronaut Roy McBride believes his astronaut father (who has been sent on a deep space mission) suffers from space madness, and goes out to save/stop him, while fearing that he may succumb to space madness himself.
- Downplayed in the 1960 Italian sci-fi movie Space-Men (a.k.a. Assignment: Outer Space). When the Tagalong Reporter is placed into a spacesuit and Thrown Out the Airlock so he can cross to the Space Station, he starts to Freak Out over the endless void, but pulls himself together just before reaching the other airlock. No one bothers easing him through it, and his reaction is regarded as entirely normal, the equivalent of getting your space legs.
- Lucy in the Sky implies that it's not outer space, but the return to the mundanity of life on Earth that drives people over the edge. Even though the movie was Very Loosely Based on a True Story, this premise was criticized by real-life astronaut Marsha Ivins.
- The Stars My Destination features the character of Gully Foyle, who becomes stranded in space after his ship is attacked and starts to go mad slowly. However, it doesn't really kick in until a ship capable of rescuing him casually flies past, which leaves Foyle with a hateful vengeance that drives him for the rest of the novel.
Gully Foyle: I kill you, Vorga. I kill you filthy!
- This trope becomes a plot point in Grant Callin's A Lion on Tharthee, which goes into detail about this issue.
- Robert A. Heinlein:
- In Stranger in a Strange Land, Secretary General Douglas asks if Dr. Mahmoud is "space happy" from his trip back from Mars.
- The main character of Ordeal In Space develops severe acrophobia after an EVA accident sends him adrift in space until rescue arrives, forcing him to give up space flight. He snaps out of it when he nerves himself up to rescue a kitten stuck on a ledge.
- Known Space:
- In one short story, Belters are said to temporarily lose their minds while staring at space, similar to "highway hypnosis". They continue to function somewhat, much like sleepwalkers.
- Human (and probably Kzin, kdatlyno, Pak, etc.) brains have a defense mechanism against a certain form of this: you'd go mad looking at hyperspace, since your brain isn't evolved for that kind of geometry, and so your brain simply edits out windows, viewscreens, etc.
- The Total Perspective Vortex from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe works by showing the victim, just for one brief instant, the entire universe, and their place in it. It's described as the worst fate a sentient being can endure, as the realization of just how insignificant he is completely destroys their soul.
- Zaphod Beeblebrox proves to be completely immune to it. At first it's thought that he's so egocentric that seeing an arrow showing his location means to him that he's important enough to be pointed out in the vastness of space. The real reason is that he's exposed to it while in a Pocket Dimension specifically designed for him... therefore, he actually is the most important thing in that universe, which means that the Vortex doesn't have its intended effect.
- In "Scanners Live in Vain", humans are unable to cope with the "Great Pain of Space" (whose exact cause is unknown but related to the FTL technology) and rely on cold sleep ships crewed by habermans whose brains have been severed from all sensory input except for the eyes, and whose bodies therefore have to be regulated by implanted instruments. However, the Pain of Space isn't space madness, it's actual physical pain; at the time that Cordwainer Smith wrote the story, little was known about the environment of outer space, or what the strange and little-understood radiations there would do to a human body.
- Isaac Asimov:
- In The Martian Way, it is a widely known "fact" that nobody can remain in space for more than six months without going crazy, and it is hard to even remain that long, which is why ships are built as big as possible and are filled with libraries and movie theaters to keep their passengers occupied. However, the hero points out that many humans who have colonized Mars have stayed out in space for longer, and on much more cramped and un-amusing ships, too, as they have adapted to the experience. They also think that floating in the void in a spacesuit is great fun and spend much of their off-duty hours while travelling between planets doing so.
- "I'm in Marsport Without Hilda" is based around the fact that most people cannot travel in space without a dose of special medication... and it is very difficult to conceal the fact said medication can be cooked into a super-drug in anyone's kitchen.
- Played with in The Naked Sun. Elijah Baley can barely keep it together the first time he travels into outer space, but that's because everyone raised in the domed cities of Earth suffers from agoraphobia, and so he can't cope with knowing that he's surrounded by all that 'space'. People taking a plane between two cities don't tend to fare much better.
- In the short story "The Second Kind of Loneliness" by George R. R. Martin, the sole inhabitant of a space station spends most of the story wondering why his relief hasn't arrived. Only at the end does he remember that he murdered his relief several months prior for interrupting the solitude he had finally become accustomed to.
- Michael Moorcock:
- In The Shores of Death, no one can leave the Earth for as much as a month without their spirit driving them mad with the pain of separation from mother Gaia. One man manages to spend years away by reforming himself into a mutant monstrosity, but his acolytes die horribly. Then again, Orlando Sharvis may in fact be another incarnation of Arioch, or perhaps Satan.
- In The Black Corridor, a handful of people leave a doomed insane Earth in a colony ship. The central character is on his lonely vigil tending the life-support systems keeping the rest in suspended animation. but deep space threatens to overwhelm him... set to music by space-rockers Hawkwind.
- In the short story "Competition" by James Causey, just looking into a viewport is enough to send a female biochemist into temporary insanity — it's mentioned that only experienced space travelers can do so.
- In the 1960 short story "Egocentric Orbit" by John Cory, the first men launched into space withdraw into themselves and refuse to talk to anyone, such is the ego-boosting effect of seeing the entire world revolve around them.
- In the William Gibson short story "Hinterlands", those who travel the interstellar "Highway" invariably return catatonic, insane or dead by their own hand. In rare cases a returnee can be temporarily grounded in reality by taking some really good drugs with someone they can totally relate to.
- In "The Nothing Equation", an astronaut is assigned to a one-man astronomy station at the edge of the galaxy. He knows that his predecessor went insane, and the one before killed himself, but is confident he won't crack up. Slowly, though, he becomes obsessed with the idea of just how vulnerable he is out here, with a hull one sixteenth of an inch thick holding 2 million pounds of pressure. He starts charting every possible vulnerable point and ends up, months later, cowering under a makeshift tent, convinced the "nothingness" outside is just waiting for a chance to come rushing in. The story ends with a fourth astronaut taking over the post also confident that he won't crack up; after all there's 'nothing' out there to be afraid of...
- In the short story "Scrimshaw", by Murray Leinster, a group of millionaires on the first tourist trip to the Moon go into catatonia or kill themselves as Earth retreats behind them and they realize their sheer insignificance. (As practice showed later, Leinster's ideas of human humility were greatly exaggerated.)
- In Mission To Horatius, the possibility of "space cafard" became a concern. Spock describes it as:
"Compounded of claustrophobia, ennui — boredom, if you will — and the instinctive dread of a species, born on a planet surface, of living outside its native environment... A mania that evidently is highly contagious. It is said that in the early days of space travel, cafard could sweep through a ship in a matter of hours, until all on board were raging maniacs, and—"
- In Tomorrow War, by Alexander Zorich, all ships have at least some bays equipped with real windows (not video screens). If this feature is omitted, the crew will grow less stable until someone starts to drool or breaks the screen and then walks out of an airlock. One of the reasons may be sensory deprivation during jumps — crews obviously are used to Faster-Than-Light Travel and aren't jarred too much, but it seems to make the long-term problem worse.
- Stanisław Lem:
- This is why patrol ships have a mirror installed in them in Tales of Pirx the Pilot. Pirx ends up kicking himself in the face repeatedly before returning to his senses. In fact, one of the tests one must endure during the piloting academy is sensory deprivation by the means of a special salt-water pool.
- In The Star Diaries, one of the short stories calls into question whether Tichy's far-fetched adventures really happened (or are tall tales and exaggerations related by an Unreliable Narrator), or are actually delusions resulting from isolation-induced space madness.
- Andrey Livadny's novel Ganymede Rising has the crew of the USS Harry S. Truman, an American space cruiser, who are sent on a top-secret mission to the titular moon of Jupiter to retrieve a recently discovered alien artifact. When someone brings up the fact that the Truman is not designed for interplanetary travel (it lacks cryogenic pods, for one), and there's a strong risk of this trope. The others wave the concern off, claiming that the crewmembers are American soldiers and their resolve and faith in their nation will sustain them. They're wrong, of course. After long months of travel, the crew of the Truman does indeed start losing their minds. So, when strange creatures start coming out of the artifact, The Captain orders an attack on it and also sends troops to the Ganymede colony (which is not under American jurisdiction). When the attack fails (the insane soldiers end up accidentally shooting one another, as the aliens are holograms), he gets ready to push the button and Nuke 'em all.
- The Space Odyssey Series: Unlike in the movie, 2001: A Space Oddesy goes into great detail Dave Bowman's life aboard Discovery after the deaths of his partners and disconnecting the HAL 9000 computer, making his only contact with Earth through pre-recorded messages. Given his circumstances, he has quite a bit of difficulty remaining sane.
- In the Honor Harrington universe, it's mentioned that the realization of just how dangerous being in space is can cause people to crack every now and then, requiring the person in question to be sedated and transferred to a groundside post for therapy. A normal naval vessel has something like this happen once or twice a T-year (Terran year).
- In the John Ringo short story "A Ship Named Francis", between the decidedly substandard crew and the highly disturbing sermons of the ship's chaplain (in which he implores God to not let any of the various things that can destroy a ship happen in excruciating detail for fifteen minutes over the public address system every morning), the Francis S. Mueller has to trank at least one person every week.
- The short story "The Emperor of Mars" covers going nuts in space in some detail, although usually the causes are being cooped up in a confined space for too long, lack of sunlight, poor diet, stress and getting bad news from home that you can't do anything about rather than space itself.
- Agent of Vega: This trope is weaponized in "The Illusionists". A planetary tyrant who suffers from extreme space-fear is tricked into fleeing his planet with the help of antipsychotic drugs that keep the fear under control... until the dosage expires.
- Hugo Gernsback had one of the earliest examples in the classic sci-fi story Ralph 124C 41+. Without gravity pulling downwards on the brain, it instead expands outwards slightly in all directions, to ill effect.
The effect on the brain results in space-sickness, the first symptoms being violent melancholy and depression followed by a terrible and heart-rending longing for Earth. During this stage, at which the patient undergoes great mental suffering, the optical nerves usually become affected and everything appears upside down, as if the sufferer were looking through a lens. It becomes necessary to take large doses of Siltagol, otherwise brain fever may develop.
- Star Trek has a bunch:
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- In the episode "The Naked Time", when discussing what happened to a scientific expedition who killed themselves and each other in bizarre ways, Spock raises the possibility of space madness but points out that it would still have to be caused by something specific.
- In the episode "The Tholian Web", being in a particular area of space causes violent insanity in the Enterprise crew by distorting the molecular structure of their brain tissues and central nervous systems.
- In the episode "The Lights of Zetar", Scotty says that going on your first deep space trip can affect a person's mind.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: The episode "Night Terrors" has the crew become irritable and paranoid after coming across a Federation ship where the crew went insane and killed each other. However, in this case it's because an alien vessel's attempts at communication disrupts the crew's REM sleep patterns rather than the usual space anomaly.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the episode "Dramatis Personae", later revealed to be caused by the crew members become possessed by the minds of a dead alien culture who had turned on themselves before their extinction and were causing the crew to reenact their power struggle.
- Star Trek: Voyager has The Void. (Confusingly, it's in the episode titled "Night", not the episode titled "The Void".) It's lightyear upon lightyear of nothing. You can't even see the stars; it's so big that hardly any ships cross it, thus nobody from either side knows much about the other. It's so big that the ship has to be on minimum power, and a broom leaning against the Conn panel could fly the ship. Nothing to do, nothing to see, everybody becomes stir-crazy or suicidally depressed... or composes a hauntingly beautiful clarinet piece (of course, Perpetual Ensign Harry Kim always was one of the most stable of the bunch).
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- Parodied in Brass Eye, in which a segment documents the way in which NASA were forced to place a mentally retarded man on the Apollo 11 flights as an outlet for the crew's massively heightened sexual impulses caused by space travel. Women were deemed "too silly" for space.
- Red Dwarf has references to people going space-crazy. Most notably Holly, the ship's computer, spent 3,000,000 years alone in deep space and has gone a bit peculiar.
- iCarly: Carly manages to suffer from this after a few hours in "iSpaceOut" even though she, Sam and Freddie never go to outer space and are just in a simulation room. Later episodes show that Carly is actually claustrophobic, though its possible that the simulation room caused it.
- This is a theorized origin of the Reavers in Firefly — that they went to the edge of known space and something they saw, whether it was the vast emptiness or something else, drove them insane. Not everyone believes this — as Jayne points out in Serenity: "I went to the edge of space once. Know what I saw? More space." The truth is simultaneously much simpler and infinitely worse.
- In the episode "Crackers Don't Matter", the light from a pulsar makes everyone lose their marbles for a time. Subverted in that it turns out the guy who told them it would do that was lying to cover up his own psychic attack.
- Referenced in "Beware of Dog", when Aeryn wonders if Crichton's deteriorating mental state is the result of this. In this specific incident it was actually Crichton's Not-So-Imaginary Friend that was causing him to act erratically but Aeryn doesn't know about that yet.
Aeryn: Crichton, you've told me yourself that your species isn't accustomed to being in space for long periods of time. Now I have seen cases of transit madness before, and if you're cracking up—
Aeryn: I want to know.
John: I'm fine. I don't want to talk about it.
- In the episode "Coup by Clam", 'transmissible celestial dementia' is a greatly feared infectious disease. It's actually caused by a bacteria in a species of mollusk that is used for assassination or extortion.
- The Twilight Zone (1959): In the first episode, "Where Is Everybody?", a man finds himself in an empty town. He's revealed to have hallucinated the whole thing during an exercise designed to replicate the feeling of isolation in outer space.
- In John Doe, a metal dome in the forest turns out to be a simulated space vessel, in which astronauts have been confined for months to test the mechanisms and psychological hazards of a manned trip to Mars. Initial investigation suggests the crew have killed each other due to Space Madness from prolonged isolation, but it turns out that their air-circulation system was sabotaged, causing a gas imbalance that impaired their reason.
- In Community, Pierce succumbs to this after a few minutes of being locked inside a space simulator.
- In Kamen Rider Fourze, several of the cast are participating in astronaut trials, including being locked in a small room. When the examiners throw in some alarm klaxons and gouts of smoke to mess with the students, Ryusei of all people has a Freak Out and swats at the smoke while making Funny Bruce Lee Noises. The others are convinced he failed the test on purpose so at least one Rider would be available to fight the Monster of the Week; Ryusei responds with Sure, Let's Go with That, not wanting to admit he was legitimately flipping out.
- In one episode of The Big Bang Theory during the arc where Howard is aboard the International Space Station, he starts breaking down, getting paranoid about the thin walls between him and vacuum and missing gravity to the point where he asks Bernadette to drop something so he can watch it fall in one of their video chats. Eventually, the other astronauts strap him down and pump him full of tranquilizers.
- A major part of the back-story of Extant is that one of the astronauts went insane after prolonged exposure and isolation in space (13 months) and quickly killed himself upon his return to Earth. This raises a question about Molly, the protagonist: did her experiences in space really happen, or is she suffering from the same problem?
- Space fatigue is mentioned in Blake's 7, but given Terry Nation's liking for the SpaceX trope that's hardly surprising.
- In The Expanse, the unnamed XO of the Canturbury is suffering from a bad case of this, shuffling around his dirt-covered cabin and waving a revolver, hence why Holden has to assume many of his duties.
"You know what I just can't figure out? We made it all this way, so far out into the darkness... [deranged chuckle] Why couldn't we have brought more light?"
- Muse's song "Space Dementia".
- This is quite possibly what happens in David Bowie's song "Space Oddity". In the song, an astronaut named Major Tom makes a trip into outer space, and when ground control detects a problem, he makes a last transmission of "Tell my wife I love her very much" before contact is lost. The last verse of the song implies that the isolation will drive him mad.
- A later Bowie song, "Ashes to Ashes", states that "Major Tom's a junkie" — although whether the drugs are the cause or the result of his space madness remains unspecified.
- The Van der Graaf Generator song "Pioneers Over C" is about an astronaut who, very similarly to Major Tom from Space Oddity, loses contact with ground control. The song goes on as an Inner Monologue of his insanity.
- In the Sandra Boynton three-part song "Cow Planet", sung by Billy J. Kramer, episode 2 heavily implies this is starting to happen to the crew by then. The voices sound deadpan and irritable, and some of the lyrics even suggest that some are getting sick of each other. "We've got a blazing afterburner, it's an irritating drum..."
- Hawkwind, along with collaborator Michael Moorcock, are fond of this trope. Witness 'Space is Dark'', which evokes the Total Perspective Vortex:
Space is dark, and it's so endless;
When you are lost, it's so relentless;
space is so big, and we're so small,
Why does man have to act so tall?
Is this the reason, deep in our minds?
- The Blue Öyster Cult song "Monsters" deals with this trope. A woman and two men escape a dying Earth in a spacecraft; there is a mad fight over her between the two men; she is inadvertently killed....
- The song "Sole Survivor" may also invoke this trope.
- The Fury from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, a Russian cosmonaut that went Ax-Crazy from something he witnessed while outside the earth's atmosphere. His suit was on fire, and he saw the Earth through the flames... making the Earth appear to be on fire.
- In Policenauts, this leads to a higher rate of drug abuse amongst astronauts, who developed the designer drug Narc as a way to relieve the pressure of living in space. Narc is a psychedelic hallucinogen that also gives the same narcotic effect as heroin, so users are incredibly resistant to pain. It's also outrageously addictive.
- Captain Vladamir from No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. Possibly as a Shout-Out to the Fury, he was a cosmonaut who went insane from isolation and didn't realize he was back on earth until he dies at the end of the fight when his helmet is shattered. Fridge Logic abounds about why he was an assassin when he didn't even know where he was.
- Flavor text for the Oort Cloud in X3: Terran Conflict mentions that those who work there sometimes fall victim to "Oort's Curse", a madness with no known cause or cure.
- This is stated as the cause of the Demon Pirates' bizarre, disjointed speech patterns and homicidal aggressiveness in Tachyon: The Fringe. An unspecified 'something' in the pirates' nebula seriously scrambles their neural pathways over an extended period of exposure, and not even the hermetic sealing of a spaceship is proof against it. There are cases where individuals removed from the nebula slowly recover some shaky semblance of sanity, indicating that it might well be the nebula itself that is responsible for the degeneration.
- It's also implied that the Fog was created, or at least modified, by Dr. Randall Cassitor. Luckily, one of the missions involves you getting a group of the Demon Pirates to attack Cassitor's base.
- In Disco Elysium, this is mentioned in setting details. Travelling through The Pale, the mass of non-matter between inhabited isolas, is strictly regulated for mental health reasons. Most people are only allowed six days' worth of exposure per year, while specialists with proper training can do twenty. There are also pockets of artificial matter made in the pale to house relay stations. Anyone staffed at those stations rarely come back intact.
- In Mass Effect, this turns out to be a little more prominent than one may expect once the extent of Reaper Indoctrination is shown, to the point where it became entirely plausible that the Player Character may suffer from it. Hearing voices is a common early symptom. Many victims can still function at this stage because they realize this isn't normal and can thus ignore the obvious attempts at brainwashing; true madness begins setting in when they start thinking of the voices as a positive thing, and it's downhill from there.
- Mass Effect:
- The poster child for this in the game is Big Bad Saren himself. While his hate-on for the human race stems back to personal loss from the First Contact War, his villainous crusade turns out to be nothing more than Sovereign's influence on his mind convincing him of the absurd notion that the Reapers would ever be interested in sparing any species that could prove to be valuable servants. The Reapers aren't even interested in conquest as a normal society understands the concept, and their idea of "enslaving a useful species" is to use genetic engineering and cybernetics to turn them into unrecognizable, unthinking, disposable troops. The extent of Saren's madness is such that, should Shepard prove capable of convincing him to see it, he will blow his own brains out.
- A salarian STG operative suffers far more blatant madness because Saren is using him to study Indoctrination to the point where he'll kill himself by ramming himself head-first into the wall of his cell if he isn't released. If he is released, he turns hostile immediately.
- Mass Effect 2:
- A classic case happens to the Cerberus research team aboard the derelict Reaper. They assume that they're safe from Indoctrination because the Reaper has been dead for millions of years. It turns out that the Indoctrination technology still works fine; the workers begin confusing the memories of others with their own, seeing apparitions reaching out of walls, and eventually turning themselves into Husks by using the Reaper's dragon's teeth to commit ritual suicide.
- Amanda Kenson comes to believe that the incomprehensibility of the Reapers is worth considering when judging the desirability of stopping the cycle. Her reasoning is that life continues even though the Reapers have perpetuated the cycle many times. This actually sounds innocent, if ignorant, when taken at face value, but by now Shepard and the player know enough about to Reapers to realize that this excuse essentially boils down to saying "The Reapers only kill space-faring civilizations, so we can't judge them as evil."
- Mass Effect 3: The Illusive Man effectively replaces Saren. His Expanded Universe Origin Story suggests he's actually been fighting off Indoctrination for decades, but he's succumbed to it fully sometime between the second and third games. Once he starts convincing himself that protecting humanity from the Reapers means controlling them instead of stopping them in any way possible, he causes nothing but delay and disaster for Shepard's efforts. Ironically, it turns out his goal is achievable, but because his belief in it is born out of madness instead of any actual evidence, his own efforts were useless and doomed to failure.
- Mass Effect:
- Sunless Skies: Staring unprotected at the stars for too long will slowly erode anyone's sanity until there's nothing left but a violent, gibbering madman. Locomotive windows need to be heavily colored and stained to ward against this effect, and even then, some crews completely lose it anyway by dint of being out too long. Marauders are common victims, and Star-Maddened Explorers are locomotives covered in nonexistent constellations whose crews have succumbed completely, to the point of being the only locomotive-based enemy to try and ram you.
- A short story on 365 Tomorrows involves walking out in space driving an astronaut to suicide. It is implied that it's a fairly common circumstance.
- Captain's Log chronicles a crew of space explorers descending into madness and depravity as the boredom and isolation get to them.
- The Ren & Stimpy Show actually has an episode titled "Space Madness", in which the tedium of space travel (and a diet consisting entirely of nutrient pastes) starts to get to Commander Hoek (Ren) and he starts to lose his mind (however little there is of it to lose in the first place). Cadet Stimpy is forced to restrain him, but Hoek believes that Stimpy is the one who has Space Madness and plots to get rid of him.
- This trope likely originated in 1950s experiments designed to test the effects of working in a cramped, low-oxygen environment, which could result in hallucinations and other signs of mental stress. Of course, this had more to do with the isolation and sense of claustrophobia created by such experiments, but as no-one had actually gone up into space at the time the results were not encouraging. However, the trope does not apply to the relatively short missions that the astronauts and cosmonauts undertook in the 1960s (the longest was about 15 days). The problem begins when longer duration missions start.
- The last Skylab crew, in space for 80 days, famously were thought to have went on strike, switching off all communications and taking a day off after being driven to exasperation by a grueling schedule, their every action being constantly dictated and monitored by Mission Control, and the fact that everything in Skylab seemed to be colored brown.note
- The Russians had several psychological issues in their early Salyut and MIR missions.
- The European Space Agency locked 6 people in a house/mock-spaceship for over 500 days, as an experiment to see how people would cope with a trip to Mars and back. Naturally, they still had gravity, but the communications delays and isolation from "Earth" were simulated pretty well. They emerged unscathed, though they were certainly happy to be out.
- One of the lessons taken away from this experiment was that the best remedy for this trope is probably the simplest; make sure that all the participants have plenty to do. This is harder than it sounds, because piloting a spacecraft is a task that consists of short bursts of complex mathematical calculations — which, unless something has gone spectacularly wrong, will be handled by computer — followed by anything from hours to months of waiting. Lightweight, compact storage media for books, music and other entertainment media might be as crucial to the feasibility of manned spaceflight as any development in the field of rocketry.
- The fears of Space Madness led to the situation where Yuri Gagarin's capsule controls were locked up, with the code to be transmitted to him from the Earth after his mental state was evaluated. Unofficially he had the codes on a slip of paper in his pocket.
- Another version is that he had this code in a sealed envelope inside his capsule and he wasn't supposed to know it beforehand. Two different people told him the code on the launch day. Bonus points for the second one telling him the code just minutes before sealing the ship.
- The whole team was completely convinced (and was later proven right) that the theory was bupkis, as it was proposed by a doctor who never had any experience with spaceflight or even aviation medicine. But he had too much clout to be simply ignored, so they were forced to play along.
- Gemini 7 was an endurance test for Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, spending 14 days in a cramped capsule with almost nothing to do (bar a rendezvous with Gemini 6A). Anticipating the boredom, each man brought a book with him and they were read and traded back and forth until the two got sick of them. The situation eventually devolved to Borman and Lovell singing the same song to each other on a constant loop. Lovell later reported: "For the last few days we just existed."
- This may have more to do with the fact that the cabin of the Gemini spacecraft was the size of the front seat of most automobiles than the outer space environment, especially given that crews on the International Space Station regularly stay up for six months at a time, and some Russian cosmonauts were on Mir for more than a year on end with only their two crew mates for company.
- That, and a urine collection bag burst early in the mission, causing the capsule to smell like a public latrine.
- Urban legends that keep circulating in the Russian yellow press and equally yellow web claim that Soviet and Russian cosmonauts periodically have episodes of weird hallucinations while in space. Those hallucinations sometime seem to be mystical, sometimes the voices warn of hardware malfunctions, and one time a cosmonaut allegedly came to believe he was a dinosaur.
- It is often said that the intellectual/academic specialty most likely to kill themselves is that of the astronomer and cosmologist. Perhaps this is what gave Douglas Adams the idea of the Total Perspective Vortex: astronomers are contractually bound to stare into it night after night and contemplate infinity in a direct and un-theoretical way, thus getting a very clear picture of how small and insignificant the human race is, in the grand scheme of things.
- Experiments suggest that astronauts headed to Mars or other interplanetary destinations may experience Alzheimer's-like symptoms, due to brain damage caused by cosmic rays.