Space Madness, Real and Imagined

Friday, December 16, 2011


Since human space flight has been conceivable there’s been an accompanying media and pop-culture myth – ‘space madness’.  Initially the supposition in pop-culture was that only the truly crazy would volunteer to be blasted into space.  And for over 50 years there’s been a corresponding premise, that time in space must affect sanity.  Brooke speaks with Matthew H. Hersch who’s written about ‘space madness’ real and imagined. 

David Bowie - Space Oddity

Comments [12]

Jesse Walker from Titusville, FL

I have to say I love the show and consider it to be one of the best shows on radio.

That being said I had a serious WTF moment whe I heard a statement that said WvB understands children because his rockets killed so many British children in WWII.

It had nothing to do with the story and was grossly unfair. It is similar to saying that Winchester must understand native Americans because his rifle killed so many. Or that Oppenheimer understood the Japanese because of Hiroshima.

It was a stupid unweeded comment that ruined an otherwise enjoyable piece on past pop culture beliefs.

Jan. 07 2012 10:42 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Now, if you insist on a movie reference, how about The Man Who Fell To Earth, where David Bowie's alien offers several basic patents (at a price we aren't prepared to pay) and dies heart-broken and alone in water intoxication while his family dies of dehydration? Want to talk about Steve Jobs getting rich on a brilliant ripoff of Star Trek ideas while the planet succumbs to global climate change, anyone? Space madness?

Dec. 23 2011 02:22 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

When at 19 I first heard Space Oddity on WBCN in Boston, like most listeners, we had no idea what Bowie thought he was saying to his audience but as it was consistently segued into Tom Rapp's Rocket Man by Pearls Before Swine which began "My mother and I never..." and went on with Ray Bradbury's poem about a pair who only went out in the rain since the husband's and father's spaceship had crashed into the sun. Context told the story our ears heard.

Meanwhile, poor James Brolin got the peach role of a senior former astronaut who rapes and, then, murders simply to protect his reputation on that rape. Shades of "ripped from the headlines" on Law & Order Special Victims Unit! As usual, you ignore the 800 pound gorilla in our home, t.v., and focus on movies and music.

Dec. 22 2011 03:44 PM


"I think you should read accounts of Hamburg and Dresden bombings."

That's a bit of a drive-by comment, Flyover.

Dresden was an industrial city much as Coventry had been when it was bombed by the Luftwaffe 5 years earlier in the war.

Neither had any strictly military assets that were targeted: both just happened to have factories producing war-time materiel.

Hamburg, on the other hand, was a major naval port with substantial U-boat pens.

Dec. 21 2011 02:05 AM

Your guest confuses General Charles Yeager with the astronauts.

He was not an astronaut; he is a WW2 ace and decorated combat veteran.

In "The Right Stuff" it's Chuck Yeager that takes off on horseback through the Mojave Desert after his wife Glennis, not any of the astronauts. And those who knew Chuck Yeager will affirm that he had no shortage of bravado even before the space program came into existence.

As for being religious: some were, some weren't. Like any other population. John Glenn was guided by his faith and let his religious values dictate his comportment.

And the most popular trope of astronauts going crazy? Hardly David Bowie's Major Tom... "Silent Running", Hal and Frank Poole in "2001: A Space Odyssey", and the ill-fated crew of the scout ship "Dark Star" would be more prominent examples.

Dec. 21 2011 01:51 AM
Karen R from Oakland, CA

Hard to imagine in the "Space Madness" conversation between Brooke and Matthew Hirsch that there was no mention of Edgar Mitchell, the lunar module pilot for the Apollo 14 mission. In contrast to Hirsch's claims during the interview, Mitchell had a profund spiritual experience while in space and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences shortly after retiring from the Navy. This isn't the first time I've experienced coverage on "On the Media" as glib, rather than insightful.

Dec. 18 2011 06:13 PM
Kenny from Fayetteville Arkansas

To really appreciate "Space-Madness" you should watch the episode of "Ren & Stimpy" entitled "Space Madness".
Take particular note of Ren's psychotic break and the soliloquey he goes into..."Oh My Little Icecream Bar".
Long term missions do put unbelievable strain on the astronauts mental faculties,yet none of them have completely "lost it" as far as we know.
I myself look forward to the day when we can all go completely insane while indulging in the luxury of a "Zero G Bath" the way Ren does in the cartoon.

Dec. 18 2011 03:15 PM
Liz Silva from New York, NY

Ok, so "Space Oddity" may have really been about addiction, but as a kid that song SCARED THE CRAP out of me. I had recurring nightmares about being stranded in space for YEARS. (and, ok, still have them sometimes...)

Dec. 18 2011 11:04 AM
djonasty from bostonma

On a lighter note, what were the sources for the samples at the beginning of the piece? I'm particularly curious about "he's got ...SPACE MADNESS" at approx 0:15 (into the download).



Dec. 17 2011 02:02 PM
Steve Maggi from Austin, TX

Mr. Hersch doesn't know his David Bowie music. "Space Oddity" isn't about an astronaut, it's about shooting up heroin as Bowie himself references in "Ashes to Ashes."

Dec. 17 2011 11:54 AM
Flyover from NYC

Ms. Gladstone statement about WvB and bombing children was uncalled for and asinine. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones....during WWII US/Brit specifically targeting civilians in German (and Japanese) cities. Such atrocities were many multiples more deaths than any committed from the skies over England. I think you should read accounts of Hamburg and Dresden bombings. Those were truly evil holocausts. Oh, why don't you find what the "V" means in V1/V2.....
The truth of history is now coming to the fore due the hard work of researchers - it is quite opposite than what we have been incessantly told.

Dec. 17 2011 08:19 AM

Brooke Gladstone was exactly right in her aside on Werner von Braun. . . Did her point deserve just a bit more comment for those unaware of the history?

The public may not like depictions of astronauts suffering space madness, but computers going mad? HAL went completely bonkers.

Dec. 17 2011 08:00 AM

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