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Top great space moments in 2014 (pictures)

It was a big year for space exploration, from rodeo-riding a comet to getting more familiar with Mars, distant planets and the beginning of it all.

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Eric Mack
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1 of 14 ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR

Rosetta and Philae meet a comet

The first successful soft landing on a comet wasn't just the biggest space story of the year. It was probably also the biggest science story of 2014.

The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft traveled 10 years to drop the Philae lander onto a comet. The landing was bumpy, but scientists were able to conduct a few days worth of experiments on the comet's surface that first week.

But neither Rosetta nor Philae may be finished yet.

Look for more great science from both in 2015. Keep clicking through this gallery for 13 more great moments in space from this year.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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2 of 14 Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Orion lifts off

A new era in space exploration began in December with the successful test flight of the Orion spacecraft, thanks to a big assist from some massive, heavy rockets.

Orion is scheduled to make an unmanned trip to the moon, but it is later expected to carry manned missions to an asteroid and Mars.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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3 of 14 NASA

New Horizons awakens

Rosetta wasn't the only spacecraft to wake up after a long journey in 2014.  In December, NASA's New Horizons probe switched itself back "on" after a 1,873 day-long hibernation.

Originally launched in 2006, the craft is on track for its mission to survey Pluto and its moons in 2015.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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4 of 14 NASA

Comet buzzes Mars

In October, we got a rare close look at a comet on a once-in-a-million-years journey. The comet came so close to Mars that humanity's orbiters circling the Red Planet actually had to hide on the other side to avoid the comet's debris cloud.

The orbiters and rovers on the surface were still able to capture images of the comet as it whizzed by.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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5 of 14 Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia

Mapping the Milky Way

We've taken literally millions of images of the Milky Way in recent years, enough that astronomers can start to map out our home galaxy.

In 2014, scientists invited the public to explore all the data and images using new tools, while others released a catalog of our galaxy's stars, of which 219 million have been identified so far.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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6 of 14 NASA

Kepler keeps truckin'

Back in 2013, it seemed like the Kepler space telescope and its mission to pick out exoplanets from observations of deep space might be wrapping up as parts of the craft began to fail.

Throughout 2014, data already collected by Kepler led to new discoveries of abundant exoplanets circling distant stars, including some that might even be cousins to Earth.

As of December, new planet discoveries were still being credited to Kepler, even as it continues to operate in a semi-crippled state.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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7 of 14 DarinK/deviantART/CC License

Exoplanets everywhere

In 2014, not only did our knowledge of distant exoplanets grow by leaps and bounds, but so did the evidence that many of them might host the elements to support life as we know it.

As of December 15, 2014, we know of 22 planets beyond our solar system where there is reason to believe they could be habitable.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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8 of 14 Video screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

Space is still hard

2014 was not a year without tragedy in space and near-space exploration. In October, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo crashed, killing one pilot.

This came within days of an explosion that happened after the liftoff of an unmanned Antares rocket carrying a payload to the International Space Station. Also, in August a SpaceX rocket exploded over Texas during a test flight.

In a year when science began to make amazing feats look easy, these were three reminders of the old adage that "space is hard."

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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9 of 14 Mars One/Bryan Versteeg

Aiming for Manned Missions to Mars

In a year when Mars rovers continued to expand our understanding of the Red Planet, momentum continued to build for a manned mission to our distant neighbor.

NASA is looking seriously at "deep sleep" methods to easily get humans to Mars, likely in the 2030s. Elon Musk started talking about getting mankind to Mars in half that time, and Mars One is already looking for astronauts to blast off in less than a decade's time, despite potential problems and a fatwa.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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10 of 14 Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Seeing the Big Bang's remnants

In March, researchers announced a groundbreaking discovery that could confirm our understanding of where we, and everything, comes from.

Scientists believed they had spotted evidence of the gravitational waves Albert Einstein predicted, remnants of the fantastic expansion of the universe that took place moments after the Big Bang.

Many think these waves could be the key to the sought-after "theory of everything," while others say the researchers may have made an error, mistaking something else for the existential ripples in space time.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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11 of 14 A Spacecraft For All screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The people's satellite

What does NASA do with a retired satellite in orbit?

In 2014, you give it over to a group of citizens who want to control it from their command center in an old McDonald's.

That's the story of ISEE-3, a satellite silent since 1999 that's now in the process of becoming one of the more ambitious citizen science projects yet, better known as a "spacecraft for all."

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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12 of 14 Xinhua

Jade Rabbit breaks down on the moon

China succeeded in putting a rover named "Jade Rabbit" on the moon, but it was quickly beset by technical problems that jeopardized its mission, prompting Patrick Stewart to perform a "moving" farewell.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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13 of 14 NASA

Even more Mars discoveries

With Curiosity roving around and other robotic eyes trained on Mars, science uncovered many new revelations about the red planet in 2014.

Organic molecules were confirmed, we learned more about how water may have once shaped the planet and saw what might be evidence of water currently flowing there.

Oh yea, and one guy thinks he spotted an alien fungus.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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14 of 14 Lunar Mission One

Racing back to the moon

Mars is cool, but isn't there more to do on the moon?

Lunar Mission One is just one of the teams that thinks so -- it raised about a million dollars for its plan to drill the moon's south pole.

Meanwhile, teams competing in the Google Lunar XPrize continued working toward returning to our lone natural satellite.

The moon, Mars, comets, asteroids and beyond -- stay tuned to @crave to see where we go in 2015.

Related article: The year in space, rode-riding a comet and more

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