We thought it couldn't get any worse in 2004, and then 2005 unfolded with its seemingly endless barrage of bad news. Mother Nature wreaked havoc in every corner of the world, the war continued in Iraq and there were several major plane crashes.
But in spite of all the dark clouds, there were a few slivers of silver lining that glimmered through the gloom.
Space Shuttle Has First Mission Since Columbia
Discovery shot triumphantly back into the skies and completed a successful mission after a 2 1/2 year hiatus following the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy.
Almost immediately after launch, the astronauts and those on the ground were on the edge of their seats when it became apparent that the same falling-debris problem to doom Columbia had also happened during this year’s July liftoff.
NASA grounded the shuttle fleet after a nearly 1-pound chunk of insulating foam broke off Discovery's external fuel tank during liftoff, narrowly missing the spacecraft.
The same trouble caused Columbia to break apart upon its re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere in 2003, killing all seven astronauts on board. It was an issue that was supposed to have been corrected before Discovery returned to space.
Shuttle managers freely acknowledged the mistake, while stressing that the inspection, photography and other shuttle data-gathering systems put in place for this flight worked very well. What's more, no severe damage was detected on Discovery while it was in orbit.
The mission put astronauts at the international space station for nine days, where they delivered supplies and replacement parts, removed trash and restored steering capability to the orbiting outpost.
They also completed a trio of spacewalks, repaired a heat shield on Discovery while in orbit and did a few fancy tricks — flipping the shuttle over so crewmembers could look for possible damage during launch.
Discovery landed at 8:11 a.m. ET on Aug. 9, one minute early and two weeks after it roared into space.
"Congratulations on a truly spectacular test flight," Mission Control said once Discovery came to a stop. "Welcome home, friends."
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin praised “the sheer gall, the pluckiness, the grittiness of this team that pulled this program out of the depths of despair … and made it fly."
A New York City mom cornered by flames in her burning apartment said a prayer before tossing her newborn son out a window to a crowd below to save him. A man standing on the ground caught the 1-month-old babe.
Guzman’s mother Tracinda Foxe, 30, was frantic when the fire in her third-floor unit trapped her in December.
"I said, 'God, please save my son,'" Foxe told the Daily News. "I prayed that someone would catch him and save his life."
Little Eric Guzman survived the ordeal. The infant received mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from his rescuer, 39-year-old Felix Vazquez — a Housing Authority supervisor who, not surprisingly, also plays catcher for his local baseball team.
The miraculous “play” was caught on videotape and broadcast around the country the next day.
Foxe was rescued by firefighters; she and her tiny son were treated at a local hospital and released.
All 309 Aboard Air France Jet Live After Crash Landing
An Air France jumbo jet slid off a slick Toronto runway during a harrowing thunderstorm landing and burst into flames — but all 309 passengers and crew managed to escape the fiery wreck and survive.
Only 14 people suffered minor injuries in the August crash-landing of the flight from Paris, which skidded into a wooded area near a clogged Canadian highway.
Passengers and crew crawled out of windows and doors and leaped to safety. Some climbed up to the freeway to hitch rides with drivers zooming past.
"People were screaming and ... jumping as fast as possible and running everywhere, because our biggest fear is that it would blow up," passenger Olivier Dubois, sitting in the back of the A340 Airbus, told CTV. “It was really, really scary. Everyone was panicking.”
There had been no warning from the captain that the plane was in trouble, but analysts later said it was the skill of the crew and the will of the passengers that saved everyone on board.
Emily the Cat Travels to France and Flies Back Business Class
A silky kitty got lost one day — very, very lost — when she strayed a bit too far from her home in Wisconsin.
Far from home was, in Emily the cat’s case, France. But the lost cat was found, skinny and thirsty but still alive. She came home in style — business class on Continental Airlines and personally escorted by company staff.
The wandering puss was exploring, as was her way, a paper company’s distribution center near her Appleton, Wis., house and got caught in a container of paper bales.
That tub went first by car to Chicago, then by ship to Belgium before its stowaway feline turned up Oct. 24 in a small French town called Nancy — more than two months after she vanished.
An employee at the laminating company where Emily was found looked at the pet’s tags and phoned her veterinarian in the States, who called her family.
Emily’s owners, Donny and Lesley McElhiney, their 9-year-old son Nick and a gaggle of reporters welcomed her back when she arrived at Milwaukee International Airport.
"She'll be held onto a lot all the way home. And then when we get home, too, she'll be cuddled a lot," Donny McElhiney said.
Added Lesley McElhiney: "She seems a little calmer than she was before, just a little quieter, a little, maybe, wiser.”
White Sox Win World Series After 88 Years
The Chicago White Sox broke their 88-year losing streak to take the World Series in a four-game sweep against the Houston Astros.
They skated by with a 1-0 win in their final, critical, game. Jermaine Dye singled home the only run in the eighth inning.
It was the third title for the White Sox, following wins in 1906 and 1917. And it was the first since "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and the "Black Sox" threw the 1919 Series against Cincinnati.
A similar storyline captivated baseball and its fans in the 2004 World Series, when the long-beleaguered Boston Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals in four games to capture their first title in 86 seasons.
Iraqis Vote in First Successful Elections
The Iraqi people voted in their first successful democratic elections in decades — not once but three times in 2005.
Though results were disputed in all three cases, Iraqis went to the polls in relative peace in January, October and December to vote for an interim government, a constitution and a parliament, respectively.
Perhaps the most seamless day at the polls was the last election of the year, on Dec. 15, which saw an overwhelming 70 percent voter turnout of about 11 million of the 15 million registered voters, according to election officials' estimates.
Though the country’s majority population of Shiites won many seats in the country’s new parliament, there was a large Sunni Arab response in the December election, as the United States government had hoped for. So many Sunni Arabs voted that ballots ran out in some places.
The strong participation by Sunnis, given that the majority of the insurgency in Iraq is also believed to be Sunni, bolstered U.S. hopes that the election could produce a broad-based government capable of ending the daily suicide attacks and violence that have ravaged the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
When it became apparent that the new government had more Shiite representation than Sunni, many protested that the election had been invalid or illegal — but the United Nations refuted those claims and said the vote was fair.
Singer Marc Cohn Survives Shooting in the Head
Grammy-winning singer Marc Cohn somehow survived a shooting to the head with only minor injuries after a carjacking attempt went awry.
Cohn, who is known for songs like “Walking in Memphis” and “True Companion” and is also married to ABC News anchor Elizabeth Vargas, didn’t even have to stay in the hospital after a bullet struck him in the temple.
The attempted carjacking on the van carrying Cohn’s band happened in Denver when the suspect fired his gun into the vehicle in a parking garage after a performance.
The bullet’s trajectory was apparently buffered by the van’s windshield and driver, who along with the tour manager was grazed by the bullet before it hit Cohn.
"Frankly, I can't tell you how he survived," Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said.
Baby Pandas Born in Washington, San Diego Zoos
A pair of zoos welcomed a pair of baby pandas this year and let the public choose the new cubs’ names.
The little San Diego Zoo panda, born Aug. 2, was called Su Lin, which means “a little bit of something very cute” in Chinese.
“Su Lin” won 44 percent of more than 70,000 votes cast online and was the same name given to the first giant panda brought to the U.S. in 1936.
The Washington National Zoo cub, who arrived in July, was called Tai Shan (“peaceful mountain”). His name got 44 percent of about 200,000 votes cast online.
Tai Shan (pronounced tie-SHON) was born to panda parents Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who came to the National Zoo in late 2000, on loan for 10 years from the Chinese government in exchange for $10 million raised through private donations to benefit conservation projects.
Thousands followed the every move of both black-and-white balls of fur on each zoo’s Web video "panda cam."
Giant pandas are rare. Their existence is threatened by loss of habitat, poaching and a low birth rate. As few as 1,600 live in the mountain forests of central China. An additional 120 are in breeding facilities and zoos in China. About 20 pandas live in zoos outside their native land.
Record Relief Efforts by Stars, Politicos and Ordinary Folk
Countries, celebrities and ordinary citizens alike showed their giving sides in the aftermath of the year’s tragic natural disasters: the tsunami in Asia and Africa, Hurricane Katrina and others in the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean; and the earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir.
The year saw record donations pouring in each time a part of the world was blind-sided by catastrophic weather. Thousands more took part in the relief efforts by the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders, Unicef and other aid groups.
Americans donated about $1.3 billion for the tsunami victims of the $11 billion in all given internationally. The undersea earthquake and resulting tidal wave killed 230,000 people and left about 1.5 million displaced.
As of September of this year, charities had raised over $1.06 billion in aid for the U.S. Gulf Coast hurricane victims, according to OMB Watch.
Hurricane Katrina alone took more than 1,000 lives and left entire towns and communities destroyed. Hurricanes Wilma, Rita and others during this season also claimed victims and left homes in ruins.
Celebrities held relief concerts and other fundraisers in droves, and many of the rich and famous and the lesser-known helped those affected by all of 2005’s natural disasters.
After a powerful earthquake in Pakistan and neighboring territory Kashmir killed about 87,350 and left scores more homeless, the world took out their wallets again. International donations totaled $5.8 billion — $3.9 billion in loans and $1.9 billion in grants — at last count.
The U.S. pledged nearly $500 million of that. Pakistan's rival India offered $25 million. In the quake's aftermath, the two countries opened their disputed border, allowing people on both sides to cross by foot for the first time in 58 years to meet separated relatives. Many people streamed in from around the globe to help the recovery and cleanup efforts.
A year after her body was overtaken by rabies and her future looked grim, 16-year-old Jeanna Giese celebrated Christmas 2005 at her Milwaukee home with her family.
The teenager is the world’s only known unvaccinated human rabies survivor and has been slowly regaining her ability to walk and talk.
Last year, a very ill Jeanna spent Dec. 25 in a hospital bed. Since then, she has been back to school, is making plans to play on her volleyball team again next year and hopes to eventually go to college.
"Every time that I look at Jeanna, I feel how fortunate we are. She's the only one in the world, so you kind of look at things a little bit different," said her father, John Giese.
Jeanna was bitten by a rabid bat at her church in Fond du Lac in September 2004. The girl didn’t seek immediate treatment and fell extremely ill a month later.
Rabies attacks the nervous system and normally results in death within a week of symptoms developing.
She was admitted to Children's Hospital in Milwaukee where doctors administered an unproven combination of drugs and induced a coma in their effort to save her life.
The treatment used to save Jeanna's life was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June and had previously been tried in India and Germany.
When Jeanna was brought out of the coma about a week later, she was paralyzed and without sensation.
Physicians detected brain-wave activity, but were unsure what would be ahead after the drugs wore off.
"Within a day or two she started giving us reflexes and eye movements," Willoughby said. "This was a nail-biter. I didn't relax until she left the hospital."
After nearly 11 weeks, Jeanna did just that in a wheelchair, on Jan. 1, 2005.
Jeanna said she remembers nothing about her initial weeks in the hospital and it wasn't until around Thanksgiving of last year that she began to realize where she was and what had happened.
"I guess I feel like I have accomplished a lot," she said.
Happy News Web Site Launched
For columns like this one, happily, a whole Web site was launched this summer.
Webmaster Byron Reese, chief executive of a Texas-based Web site publisher, decided newshounds needed a break from life’s unpleasant things — so he went live with HappyNews in July.
HappyNews.com keeps the focus away from the world’s wars, slights of nature and other tragedies, and on uplifting stories like the ones you’ve just read.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.