Having to descend 18 miles out of the sky to the Earth's surface doesn't sound like a winning formula for any human being. Except for Felix Baumgarter, who decided 18 miles wasn't high enough.
The Austrian skydiver set a new world record in August, free-falling from 128,000 feet (about 24 miles) above the Earth's surface. During the nearly five minute fall, Baumgartner became the first human being to break the speed of sound, maxing out at 730 MPH.
Baumgarter completed the jump, (along with two other practice jumps from 71,000 and 96,000 feet) despite the dangers of near sub-zero temperatures in the Earth's upper atmosphere, the possibility of his skin boiling if his suit malfunctioned, and the quirks of that pesky physical force known as gravity.
The project, dubbed "Red Bull Stratos," after the energy drink maker that helped sponsor the stunt, may have ultimately proved that the company's tag line as a myth. As Baumgartner shows, Red Bull does not, in fact, give you wings.
As high as Felix Baumgartner traveled for his jump, it pales in comparison to the heights Elon Musk reached in 2012.
Musk saw a decade's worth of work come to fruition in May, when his private space exploration company, SpaceX, launched a Falcon 9 rocket that successfully docked with the International Space Station, the first private rocket to ever do so. Musk likened the event to "winning the Super Bowl."
Despite his interstellar ambitions, Musk's ventures on Earth were also a huge success. Musk's electric car company, Tesla, picked up automobile accolades from two big car magazines despite being a whipping boy in the run up to the presidential election.
The rocket launch seems to only scratch the surface of Musk's ambitious space plans. In an interview with Wired magazine, Musk said he wants to sell private space flights to Mars for $500,000, eventually helping to build a colony of 80,000 people on the Red Planet.
Musk might need some help from our next winner if he ever wants a Martian colony to work out.
MARS CURIOSITY ROVER
After spending 10 years and $2.5 billion on the project, NASA saw its Mars Curiosity Rover plop down in Mars' Gale Crater on Aug. 6.
The landing was broadcast live over the Internet, showing a raucous NASA crew hugging and celebrating once the unmanned vehicle safely landed. President Barack Obama praised the event, calling the landing an "unprecedented feat of technology" and a "point of national pride." He would later call the crew at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and call the feat "mind-boggling."
The crew involved with the Rover became so popular, one of its members, Bobak Ferdowsi, became an Internet sensation due to his funky hairdo: starting a meme known as "NASA Mohawk Guy."
Since landing on Mars, the rover has been investigating soil samples to figure out if the planet once harbored life, and whether or not humans will ever be able to colonize on the planet. It looks like NASA will have some time to figure this out. Initially thought to end by 2014, the program was awarded an extension in December, with plans to send another rover to Mars by 2020.
From the origin of the year's best memes to beating back kids who bully bus monitors, Reddit became a household name over the course of 2012. The social news site, run almost completely by its members, released data in June that showed just how powerful the Reddit community can be.
Its most popular channels, known as subreddits, attract millions of pageviews every day, with users contributing to everything from one of the Internet's biggest political forums to bulletin boards full of cute cat photos. "Redditors" were heavily influential in blocking cybersecurity bills put forth by the U.S. government, helping to organize an Internet "blackout" in protest of the Stop Online Privacy Act and Protect IP Act. However, the site saw its fair share of controversy during the year after a Gawker story revealed the identity of the person moderating subreddits where users posted inappropriate photos of underage girls.