Present and future space-based applications such as sensors, low-weight and low-power data links for satellites, communication between electromagnetically-shielded modules, and short-distance cross-links within satellite constellations may benefit from the inclusion of small, low-power, and high-efficiency lasers such as the recently-developed Vertical Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser (VCSEL). Many factors influence the application of these devices to space. Temperature response, operational lifetime and reliability, and power consumption are all important considerations for space applications. In addition, the space radiation environments must be considered. In this work, the effects of ionizing radiation on VCSELs are studied with an emphasis on proton damage, and with comparisons to related neutron and gamma-induced phenomena. The influence of proton irradiation is studied in-depth for selected VCSEL structures by the use of an ion microbeam. The experiments indicate that VCSELs exhibit much less threshold current shift for a given radiation dose, compared to the more traditional edge-emitting semiconductor lasers, but that self-heating is a more important consideration for VCSELs. The high current densities associated with VCSELs also lead to a strong influence from forward-bias annealing. These effects are common to various VCSEL types (780 nm and 850 nm) and their magnitude at a given dose is strongly dependent on device size. This indicates that, while VCSELs appear to be very insensitive to ionizing radiation when compared with alternative technologies, there are a number of factors that must be taken into account when optimizing for the space environment.