2010's top-10 space stories

The year 2010 was a gloomy year for proponents of the human exploration of space, at least in the USA. Space enthusiasts saw the White House kill the Bush's administration's NASA Constellation-Orion-Ares efforts which would have returned humans to the Moon by 2020. The agency's risky fall-back plan-using SpaceX's commercial Dragon crewed capsule and Falcon booster rocket-may yet prove critics wrong. SpaceX, with NASA's help, engineered a successful Cape Canaveral flight test of the Dragon-Falcon combo in late 2010 to the surprise of many (including this writer).

The final space-shuttle mission will launch this February. After that, we'll have to wait up to 7 years before the USA returns to launching its own astronauts in space aboard Dragon-Falcon. Meanwhile, the Russians will be paid by NASA to launch American astronauts to the space station aboard the Soyuz.

Here's a top-10 reverse look at space-related news of the year just ended-

10. Weird life: The discovery of ancient sulfate-thriving fossils as well as living arsenic-based lifeforms on Earth are strong indicators that life as-we-don't-know-it exists here and is likely to exist elsewhere in the universe. Also, data indicates that the building blocks of RNA and DNA exist in the thick atmosphere of Saturn's big hydrocarbon moon Titan.

9. Mars' new look: More in-depth study of martian soil chemistry now indicates that carbon-based life could have easily evolved on the Red Planet. This recent news defies the contested "negative" soil results of the 1976 Mars Viking lander mission for organic materials.

8. More exoplanets: Discovering new planets beyond our solar system is almost old news now, but the year 2010 saw the NASA Kepler observer discover a terrestrial planet orbiting a red dwarf star 20 light years from Earth; it is close to ol' terra firma in size. Kepler is currently searching for Earthlike worlds beyond the Sun.

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