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A remarkable self-portrait of the Curiousity rover on Mars. (© NASA/JPL Mars Science Laboratory/Curiousity Project)

Every year the National Aeronautic Association awards the  Robert J. Collier Trophy for "the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year." The winner for 2012 was NASA/JPL’s Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Project, which delivered the Curiosity rover to Mars, where it is doing a variety of experiments designed to help us better understand ancient Martian environments. Two other NASA/JPL endeavors–the Voyager Inter­stellar Mission and Dawn asteroid probe–were also in the running. Other nominees were Felix Baum­gartner, who set a world record by skydiving 24 miles, and the Red Bull Stratos Team that supported his effort; Lockheed Martin’s K-MAX unmanned aer­ial cargo system; the Gulf­stream G650 high-speed, ultra-long-range business jet; and the U.S. Air Force’s MC-12 Project Liberty, which developed a twin-engine turboprop (modified Hawker Beech­craft King Air 350s and King Air 350ERs) to provide intelligence, surveillance and recon support to ground forces in combat.