Why ‘Space Madness’ Fears Haunted NASA’s Past
When astronauts first began flying in space, NASA worried about “space madness,” a mental malady they thought might arise from humans experiencing microgravity and claustrophobic isolation inside of a cramped spacecraft high above the Earth. Such fears have since faded, but humanity continues to see spaceflight as having the power to transform people for either better or for worse.
Such early concerns of NASA psychiatrists led to careful screening of the first astronauts drawn from U.S. Air Force test pilots. The astronauts proved highly professional and level-headed in even the most life-threatening scenarios — a reality that did not stop reporters and science fiction writers from imagining astronauts going crazy or becoming spiritually changed by spaceflight.
Photo: The Mercury 7 are the first group of NASA’s astronauts. Back row: Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Gordon Cooper; front row: Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter in 1960. Wikimedia Commons