- The malady was thought to arise from humans experiencing microgravity and claustrophobic isolaiton.
- NASA psychiatrists carefully screened the first astronauts.
- Pop culture and media reporting played up the stoic astronaut.
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 military 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.
"People were making movies about astronauts suffering psychic stress long before any astronauts went into space," said Matthew Hersch, a historian of science and technology at the University of Pennsylvania. "They assumed leaving Earth and traveling into the heavens would be so traumatic that humans would have to respond in some way."