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Far out: The year 2015 in space stories

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The past year was a huge one for space stories.

Here are some of the most-shared and widely discussed stories from the year 2015: In space.

For starters, there were 86 launches to orbit this year, according to Newsy.

SpaceX finally launched and landed Falcon9 succssfully, one month after Blue Origin did so. 

Billionaire CEOs Elon Musk, who comandeered SpaceX's effort, and Jeff Bezos, who oversaw Blue Origin, trolled each other about it on Twitter.

Musk congratulated Bezos via Twitter but then tried to one up him by explaining the difference between space and orbit.

In other space news, NASA scientists received their closest look at Pluto to date. And earlier in the year, they also saw Pluto and its moon like never before.

Scott Kelly set the record the most time spent in space by a U.S. astronaut in October.

One month before that, water was discovered on Mars

This NASA photo of Mars had everyone talking as well. Did or do you see a creature there?

A weather balloon that had been lost for two years turned up with stunning images of the Grand Canyon in September as well.

Oh, and Matt Damon received critical acclaim for his role in "The Martian," too. That counts, right?

NASA hopes to grow potatoes on Mars

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NASA is working on a high-tech method to grown an ancient crop in outer space.

In conjunction with International Potato Center in Peru, NASA will test-grow potatoes in a Mars-like environment on Earth in hopes of eventually creating a potato-growing operation on Mars.

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The soil used in the experiment will come from Peru’s Pampas de La Joya desert, which is similar to the soil found on Mars, according to CNBC.

Extraterrestrial farming could help feed future space colonies as well as provide nutritious food to those in famine-stricken areas on Earth. Scientists expect that due to the high levels of carbon dioxide on Mars, potato crops could yield up to four times as much as a typical Earth-grown crop.

We want to put potatoes on Mars and we've got NASA helping us do it! Today we announce a research project to show that a...Posted by International Potato Center on Monday, December 21, 2015

Watch: Surfer Kelly Slater rides a man-made wave

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Jesus walked on water. Moses parted the sea.

And pro surfer Kelly Slater? While not a prophet, he has literally made waves.

Well, he did it with some help, of course.

Slater announced on Instagram Friday that he and his team of scientists and engineers have designed and successfully built a prototype of "truly world-class, high-performance, human-made waves."

The project came to fruition after 10 years in the making, he said.

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"Through rigorous science and technology, we’ve been able to design and build what some said was impossible, and many very understandably never thought would actually happen," he said.

The details of the project will be revealed over time, but Slater shared the initial news with a video of him riding the first wave prototype, which was filmed two weeks ago.

Watch it below:

(Mobile users can click here to watch it on Slater's website.)

Is ISIS trying to take down the internet?

A smartphone app said to be used by  members of ISIS could be the next weapon in the terror group’s arsenal, according to the man who created and sold the first Internet security software.

According to a story from The International Business Times, the app – IS AMaq Agency – is thought to have played a part in a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack last month that targeted Internet servers.

The attack happened, according to scmagazine, between Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, and included 13 Internet root name servers . Those servers are considered the core infrastructure of the Internet.

The attack jammed servers, and, at its peak,  flooded them with 5 million queries per second.

>>Related: ISIS primer: What is a caliphate?

According to a cybersecurity expert John McAfee, who spoke to the International Times UK, the addresses of the root servers were discovered in the app’s memory.

"I feel certain that the IS news app was the source of the DDoS attack," John McAfee said of the attacks. "One of my researchers has discovered encrypted packets being sent to the Amaq Agency news app.

"We found the 13 root server addresses in the app memory while the app was running. The addresses did not appear inside the static app. The addresses therefore had to be decrypted at run time. Why would they encrypt the addresses inside the app unless they were trying to hide the true purpose of the app? This is the smoking gun we were looking for."

McAfee, who created the first  commercial antivirus program, issued a dire warning to Western countries that the next World War is on the way, it will be fought in cyberspace, and that ISIS will be better prepared than Western countries.

“No one can predict the future. We can make educated guesses or, more prudently, explore the different possibilities and scenarios. And for a scenario of cyber war we are woefully unprepared — one could even say defenceless,” he wrote  in a piece for Internation Business Times.

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“Our arsenal of bullets, bombs, tanks, planes, boats, missiles and our nuclear capabilities are rivalled by few, and likely exceeded by none.

“None of this matters in a cyber war — a fact that could damage us when our weapons and equipment are turned against us using computers.”  

15 stunning photos from the #SuperBloodMoon lunar eclipse

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Sky watchers from around the world took to social media to share photos from Sunday night's supermoon lunar eclipse. Click here or scroll down to see some of our favorites.

>> PHOTOS: Supermoon lunar eclipse as seen around the world

>> RELATED STORY: 10 things to know about the supermoon lunar eclipse

>> RELATED STORY: Sept. 27: Supermoon lunar eclipse is coming on Sunday

>> AUGUST 2015: Supermoon photos from around the world

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<iframe src="//;border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe><script src="//;border=false"></script>[View the story "15 stunning photos from the #SuperBloodMoon lunar eclipse" on Storify]

In medical first, cancer patient receives 3D-printed titanium rib cage

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A Spanish man recently received the world's first customized, 3D-printed titanium ribcage after doctors had to remove a large portion of his sternum due to a cancerous tumor.

According to CNET, the 54-year-old man suffered from chest wall sarcoma. Anatomics, a medical device company based in Melbourne, Australia, created the titanium implant for the man's medical team at Salamanca University Hospital in Salamanca, Spain. 

The patient reportedly is doing well and has been released from the hospital.

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3D printing is quickly becoming a favorite for medical researchers. It makes life a lot easier for the rib cage's new owner as well as the doctors who implanted it.

"It needed to be customized exactly to suit the patient. No human body is the same so therefore every implant is going to be different," a researcher at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation said.

Some implants are made without measuring the patient, so they don't always fit well, which can cause complications down the road.

But customizable prosthetics — and 3D-printed ones in particular — have allowed researchers to take major steps forward.

"The 3D printing works by inputting a 3D digital CAD file into a computer. ... The machine puts down layer upon layer of material and each layer is fused. ... You then start to build up a product as your layers increase," explained the researcher.

This ribcage could be one of the first few snowflakes in an avalanche of new 3D-printed medical technology. 

Fabricated prosthetics were the first choice for early adopters of 3D printers. And last month, the FDA approved the first ever 3D-printed pill, which its designers claim can deliver a higher dose of medicine and dissolve quicker.

Scientists are even working on fabricated organs, although it's not quite to the point where you hit a button that says "kidney," and the printer gets to work. Instead, the 3D-printer builds up a structure and places a patient's cells along that structure, allowing the cells to do the actual work of making a new kidney. (Video via Wake Forest Baptist Health)

With all the new possibilities, companies are sure to keep churning out 3D-printed products, as long as the money is still there. Nature reported printed body parts were a half a billion dollar industry last year alone.

– The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

This video includes images from Anatomics and Getty Images.

WATCH: There's more than meets the eye to this epic 'Transformers' cake

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Six-year-old Ewan Munro of Perth, Australia, didn't just get a cake at his birthday party – he got a "Transformers" robot in disguise.

According to BuzzFeed, Ewan's parents, Russell and Belinda Munro, worked together to create the epic Optimus Prime cake, which actually transforms. Russell built a "skeleton" using a 3D printer and powered the dessert's transformation using two motors. Belinda, meanwhile, took care of baking and icing the confection.

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The cake's dramatic reveal at Ewan's sixth birthday party was met with squeals of delight from kids and parents alike. A video of the moment has gone viral, with more than 943,000 views on YouTube.

Read more here.

>> Click here to watch the cake's reveal

>> Click here to get a behind-the-scenes look at the motorized cake platform

Study: Men who harass women online are literally losers

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This is a study that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone: men who harass women online are likely to have some of their own issues.But there's more to this study than just the obvious. Researchers at Miami University and the University of New South Wales watched how men reacted and treated women during 163 games of the popular Halo 3. After watching the game play and reviewing online comments between players, the researchers found that men that were in the zone and playing well were most likely to be cordial to each other. They also paid compliments to men and women, no matter what their skill level.But according to the Washington PostSome male players, however — the ones who were less-skilled at the game, and performing worse relative their peers — made frequent, nasty comments to the female gamers. In other words, sexist dudes are literally losers.

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The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, appear to reflect a recent Pew report, that says that 40% of internet users experience harassment, especially women. Researcher Michael Kasumovic says video games are a good representation of real life human behavior for a few reasons.First, those that play games like Halo 3 are anonymous. They don't interact with players that long so it's easy to throw an insult out there and not have to deal with the person again. Games like Halo 3 are mostly played by men, leaving the door open for harassment.

Men who harass women online are quite literally losers, new study finds— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 20, 2015(tweet) Science proves that sexist gamers are whiny losers. No wonder Gators hate women! #GamerGate— IlsaTheFeminazi (@TeamSJW) July 21, 2015(tweet)

Dudes who harass women online are losers, according to study. Because we needed a study to figure that out— Bluto (@BlutoGrandex) July 21, 2015

Men who harass women online are quite literally losers Did not need Washington Post to tell me that but thanks anyway— T a z e e n (@tazeen) July 20, 2015(tweet)

New Horizons fly-by will shed light on Pluto's mysteries

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After more than nine years in transit, NASA's New Horizons probe is finally ready to fly past Pluto and give us the best glimpse ever of the dwarf planet. And if the last few days leading up to the flyby are any indication, we're about to see some pretty wild stuff. 

Up until now, we had no idea what the surface of Pluto actually looks like; the icy dwarf planet is too far away for conventional telescopes to make out clearly. But the increasingly clear pictures New Horizons has been sending back have revealed dark spots and polygonal shapes on Pluto's surface — evidence of complex geology. 

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We'll learn more about what Pluto looks like on Tuesday, when New Horizons passes within 8,000 miles of the planet's surface. The probe is scheduled to take a series of observations which should tell us, among other things, the chemical composition of Pluto's surface and atmosphere. 

New Horizon's mission doesn't end after Pluto; the spacecraft is slated to study one or two other objects in the Kuiper Belt – the region of small asteroid-like objects surrounding the edge of the solar system. 

It will take months for New Horizons to send back all of the data it will gather during its flyby, and the information will probably keep astronomers busy even longer. But if you want to see what the flyby might look like for yourself, you can check out NASA's animated preview app.

This video includes images from NASA, ESA and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute) and NASA / Johns Hopkins University / Southwest Research Institute.

<script>(function(d, s, id) {  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;  js = d.createElement(s); = id;  js.src = "//;version=v2.3";  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script>As New Horizons gets even closer to Pluto and its large moon, Charon, we are able to capture intriguing fine details on...Posted by NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Thursday, July 9, 2015

This latest image from New Horizons allows us to better see the four dark spots on the side of Pluto that always faces...Posted by NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Saturday, July 11, 2015

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