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The Top 10 Science Stories of 2012

A devastating storm, a new phase of Mars exploration, a recipe for a pandemic flu--these and other events highlight the year in science and technology

The Top 10 Science Stories of 2012, NASA, Endeavour
Image of Endeavour on Manchester Blvd. in Los Angeles by ATOMIC Hot Links/Flickr

Bold, Private Efforts Step into Roles Vacated by NASA

Space shuttle Endeavour’s trip down West Manchester Boulevard past Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood, Calif., in October was probably not quite what Pres. John F. Kennedy had in mind as “the other things” to accomplish during his famous moon speech made 50 years ago. The space plane was towed for the final leg of its journey to its final resting place at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, reminding us that NASA really has retired its shuttle program and that there isn’t much for astronauts to do these days in space.

Endeavour’s brethren had already found their permanent homes: Atlantis will remain at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Discovery now lives at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. And the Enterprise prototype now sits proudly atop the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan after making spectacular tours around New York City’s airspace and later enduring a beating from Superstorm Sandy.

Dreams of human spaceflight found other outlets this year: California-based SpaceX became the first private company to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. The company’s Dragon capsule is slated to carry humans to orbit by 2015, onboard a reusable rocket also designed and built by SpaceX. Other contenders in the busy and risky private human spaceflight arena include ATK, Blue Origins, DreamChaser and Stratolaunch.

The commercialization of spaceflight could extend to smaller scales, too: talks are underway to allow government-built instruments to hitch rides onboard private satellites.
 
Meanwhile if a trip “to the moon, Alice” sounds quite appealing these days, sign up for Golden Spike’s recent offer—a flight to the moon. It’s only $750 million. The fee includes return trip to Earth, however, so true escapists will have to wait for Bigelow Aerospace’s private space hotels or a trip to colonize Mars. —Robin Lloyd

More:
» A Tribute to All 135 of NASA’s Space Shuttle Missions [Video]
» SpaceX Dragon Capsule Arrives at Space Station with Precious Cargo

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