“Space Madness”: Commander Hoek and Cadet Stimpy go cabin-fever crazy in outer space

By on March 3, 2016

You may have been hearing about NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko, who have returned to Earth — landing in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan on Wednesday, March 2, 2016, at 10:26 am local time — after a historic 340-day mission aboard the International Space Station, showing no visibly apparent outward signs of having experienced that strange cabin fever-like mental disease called “space madness.”

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Obviously, if you’re a Ren and Stimpy fan — as we are here at Night Flight HQ — you’ll recognize “Space Madness” as the title of one of our favorite episodes from “The Ren & Stimpy Show” (the first segment of the third episode, from 1991), co-written and directed by John Kricfalusi, who created the show and directed the first two seasons (Kricfalusi is mentioned in this blog post about Ralph Bakshi).

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“Space Madness” is also the first time we see the duo appearing as “Commander Höek” (full name: Marlin T. Höek) and “Cadet Stimpy” (full name: Stimpson J. Cat), in a storyline that details their 36-year space mission, during which Ren begins to display the symptoms of space madness, a familiar TV trope, while his moronic yet faithful sidekick Stimpy seems to be immune to its effects (possibly because his brains are already mushy).

The trope of going crazy in outer space is something we’ve all seen many, many times before, particularly since the interest in sci-fi space travel from the 1950s onward. The very first episode of TV’s “The Twilight Zone,” in fact — “Where Is Everybody?,” airing on October 2, 1959 — ended with the revelation that a character named Mike Ferris (played by Earl Holliman) is actually an astronaut undergoing a battery of tests to determine if he will go crazy being isolated and having no human contact while he floats along in space.

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Rod Serling’s epilogue at the end of the show (his first ever) sums up the concept of space madness concisely: “Up there, up there in the vastness of space, in the void that is sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting… in the Twilight Zone.”

The episode to “Space Madness” begins (to the dramatic opening of Dvorak’s “New World” symphony, starting about the time you hear the words “Captain’s Log) as they settle down in Stimpy’s trailer and prepare to watch TV — Stimpy’s excited because his favorite live action drama “Commander Höek and Stimpy” is about to start, so he gobbles anti-gravity chewing gum and puts on his “genuine super elastic time shorts” — and as it continues it soon becomes difficult to tell if what we’re watching is real or fictional, as we’re now inside the cartoon, inside the cartoon, cruising along with Ren and Stimpy (or, rather, their space travelin’ alter-egos) at a comfortable sub-light speed.

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“it is not I who am crazy,” Commander Höek says later in the episode, eating a bar of soap he’s hallucinating into the shape of an ice cream bar, while floating past Stimpy in the airborne bath water.

“It is I who am mad,” he continues, and this is significantly one of the many times we see Ren lose his frickin’ mind over the course of the show itself.

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Stimpy — loyal to his command, but fearing for Ren’s sanity — believes he has no choice but to tackle Ren, but this just makes Ren think that it is Stimpy who is suffering from space madness, so he puts Cadet Stimpy in charge of guarding the History Eraser Button, and then all goes well until the announcer goads Stimpy into pressing the button, which eliminates their very existence and, additionally, the existence of the show itself is erased from the world.
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We’re pretty sure that astronaut Scott Kelly is aware of the “Ren and Stimpy” episode — he seems like a pretty informed dude, and even joked about the concept of “space madness” briefly, and recently, with Stephen Colbert on the comedian’s late night talk show (about six minutes into this video), and of course we’ve been seeing lots of interviews with Kelly in the past year, where he sometimes talks about drinking his own filtered urine and sweat, and we’ve even seen him wearing a gorilla suit onboard.

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Nope that doesn’t sound like he’s experienced any space madness one bit, but honestly, how would we know? NASA will have to do their tests to find out if Kelly and Kornienko have experienced any longterm effects of space madness.

We’re reading that they’ve both been participating in a number of in-flight studies, for the purpose of providing info for NASA’s Journey to Mars, including research into how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation and the stress of long-duration spaceflight.

Kelly’s identical twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, has participated in parallel twin studies here on Earth to help scientists compare the effects of space on the body and mind down to the cellular level.

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NASA astronaut and Expedition 46 Commander Scott Kelly and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko enjoy the cold fresh air back on Earth after their historic 340-day mission aboard the International Space Station. (NASA TV)

Specifically, NASA is looking at the effects of space radiation, as well as the effect of long-term isolation on mental health, but they already know one thing about Kelly: he grew two inches while in space.

Read more here.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.