The truth is out there
For all those who want extraterrestrials to be able to pick up the phone to us whenever they want, the biggest hit had to be the cancellation of funding for SETI.
The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence was forced to put its Alien Telescope Array to bed in April because it no longer had the readies to run the radio dishes that searched the night sky for little grey men.
Luckily, celebrities like the prospect of a close encounter as much as the next human, so a fundraising drive by SETI bagged the $200,000 it needed to restart ATA by August, with kind donations from people like science-fiction author Larry Niven and actress Jodie Foster.
Thousands of Americans thought an easier, cheaper and quicker way to find out we're not alone in the universe might be to ask the US government to admit they'd been hiding the fact for years, and signed two e-petitions to try to force that to happen.
The democratic process did get an answer, but not one that was likely to shut the conspiracy theorists up.
"The US government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public's eye,"
government stooge space policy White House spokesman Phil Larson said.
Meanwhile, the search for aliens continued, mostly by looking for microbial Martians and the fountain of all life - water.
In March, a NASA scientist claimed he'd found evidence of fossilised bacterial remains in an ancient meteorite, though it's not the first time that's happened.
The Journal of Cosmology, where the study was published, said they respected Dr Richard Hoover, but were open to other boffins giving their opinions since the findings were quite controversial.
Scientific eyes were still trained on Mars for some sign of the elusive H20 many seem sure is, or was, there.
An ESA satellite captured a shot of what appeared to be the meandering channels of a dried-up river on the surface of the Red Planet and the US' Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took some snaps of streaks in the sand that look like the remains of flows of briny water.
HiRISE image showing possible water flows on Mars. Credit: NASA
Meanwhile one of NASA's old rovers, the Opportunity, sent back a shot of what boffins reckon could be a vein of gypsum, which could only really have been formed by flowing water.
And water was not just potentially flowing on Mars, scientists also reckon that a huge water lake on a Jupiter moon could harbour alien life. The lake lies underneath an ice cap covering Europa, but the boffins found evidence that the ice is mixing with the water (rather than blocking it off), pushing up the probability of life in the depths below.
Whether or not Marvin the Martian (or Jane the Jovian) is there, NASA is also searching for habitable planets, just in case we need a handy spare to run to in the event of some form of Armageddon brought on by our complacent destruction of Earth.
The first possibility has already been spotted by NASA's Kepler mission. Kepler 22b is in the 'habitable zone' around a star - the area where water could exist on the planet's surface - and it's 600 light years away.
And the US Air Force's Space Command is making sure there won't be any nasty surprises if and when we get there, giving SETI some more funding to check out the habitable worlds found by Kepler.
Next page: Apocalypse now, or next year
Shuttle meant more capabilities than just moving stuff around
Too many people really didn't understand what was lost with the Shuttle retirement. It wasn't only its payload capacity, which was far larger than many "COTS" devices available now, some payloads due to their size and weight can't be carried on most rockets available, and the Shuttle also allowed for more "delicate" payloads due to its "softer" take off.
The Shuttle allowed for a "space operation"s capability - see the Hubble maintenance - that now it is lost because no other platform can carry seven astronauts and a full assortment of reusable facilities (from the robotic arm to the needed tools). It could also bring back to Earth large payloads, and that capability is now fully lost.
NASA can put the Webb Telescope in a Lagrangian point, and let's hope everything goes well or it will be just a brick flying there, and it will anyway last far less than Hubble, as most of other satellites from now on.
If you look at the Shuttle just as commercial satellite launcher, well, it's too expensive and complex. It you look at it as a versatile space operation platform, it was very valuable. NASA should have started to design a new, less expensive platform (the thermal protection was designed in the seventies - there is really no way to design now a simpler one??) instead of trying to design an Apollo with LCD screen.
Meanwhile, moving from away LEO with actual engine technology is wishful thinking. The Saturn V was already capable of it. But it was too expensive also. Probably to move away from LEO you need to start from LEO. But first a full "space operations" capability form LEO is need. And it won't be achieved with Sojuz and Orion.
The NASA problem was keeping on selling the Shuttle as a commercial launcher, even when it was clear it was not, stopping development of cheaper launcher for commercial satellites.
It's useless to compare it to Proton, Taurus or SpaceX. It's like comparing a cargo ship to a aircraft carrier. If you have to ship eighty airplanes across an ocean you may just use a cargo. If you need full aircraft operations across it you need a nuclear carrier, even if it is much more expensive to operate.
Using a reausable, heavy, man-rated and expensive launcher to deliver commercial comm satellites was a nonsense that shows how NASA management was (and is) really incompetent. The Shuttle should have been uses as a prototype and scientific vessel to build space operations capability, as it did in its high-end missions.
Even if Orion can reach HEO or Lagrangian points, what could it do there besides saying "look mama, I'm here!" and then get back? Even if SLS is built, it will mean its very expensive payloads have no way to be returned to Earth and resused, and thereby will be abandoned in space or destroyed on return - how will it be "cheaper" than the reusable Shuttle facilities for high-end missions?
The whole MPCV has only one reason to exist, to keep on funding an aerospace industry full of engineers who spend too much time on Facebook and have only a tiny fraction of the skills their fathers and grandfathers had.