The Mars Curiosity Rover has been tipped to win Time magazine’s Person of the Year award.
The scientific exploration vehicle, which landed on the Red Planet in October, could be only the third non-human to gain the prestigious title in 87 years.
Others on the 2012 shortlist include Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Gangnam rapper Psy, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Apple boss Tim Cook, British Olympic long-distance runner Mo Farah, critical Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei and skydiving record breaker Felix Baumgartner.
The only other non-human contender for the title, which will be announced on December 14, is the Higgs Boson particle.
The tribute is usually reserved for popes, presidents and peacemakers - and the odd tyrant such as Soviet despot Joseph Stalin and Nazi dicator Adolf Hitler.
However, if Time editors do pick the Mars Curiosity Rover, the machine will have plenty of non-individual companions who have also scooped the honour.
The Computer (1983)
The dawn broke for personal computers in the 1980s and Time recognised the effect this was having on our lives and how these gadgets could revolutionise the future.
Using an artisitc cover picture of a man sitting at a desk with a PC on top, the magazine used the strapline “The Computer Moves In” under the headline “Machine of the Year”.
It was the first time the honour had not been reserved for a man, woman or group of people.
In the accompanying article, Roger Rosenblatt finished by writing: “There’s a New World coming again, looming onn your desktop. Oh, say, can you see it? Major credit cards accepted.”
Endangered Earth (1988)
The 1980s also brought the destruction of the environment into general awareness.
For the first time, millions – and not simply a committed few – began worrying about what was happening to Mother Earth.
A host of discoveries – such as CFC damage to the ozone layer and the causes of climate change – also helped put the issue on politicians’ agendas.
So, by the end of the decade, Time acknowleged this and, using a picture of the globe bounded by wire, dedicated 1989 to the “Planet of the Year – Endangered Earth”.
Choosing to ignore the voters’ choice of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Time editors sparked controversy by giving its 2006 Person of the Year title to You.
Although, the cover image of a computer made this slightly confusing, inside the magazine it explained that it meant this was a tribute to the many creative Internet users and innovators who were collectively changing the world.
It paid homage to emerging sites such Facebook and Wikipedia.
The American Soldier (1950 and 2003)
The “sharp instruments of blunt policy” – as Time have described them – have twice won the magazine’s person of the year.
It first paid tribute to G.I. Joe in 1950 when, just six years after global fascism had taken a licking from Uncle Sam, it was the turn of Communism.
American troops were in the middle of fighting in the Korean peninsula and, inspite of the eventual stalemate, 1951 was the year when the U.S rode to the rescue of of the capitalist south, which had been losing the war until then.
Five decades later, the Iraq war was raging and – despite the controversy over the invasion – Americans felt proud of their 1.4million servicemen and women.
So Time followed suit by dedicating 2003 to American Soldiers.
Twenty-five and under (1966)
It was the swinging sixties and a dawning golden age for youth culture.
But it was also a time, in America at least, when young men – under 25 – could be drafted into the Army and face being killed in Vietnam.
Accordingly, Time felt this age group ought to be honoured with its Man of the Year title for 1966.
The Protester (2011)
From theArab Spring to the Occupy Movement, 2011 witnessed a global wave of descent.
So Time awarded its Person of the Year title to The Protester.
It described the 2011 as “unlike any year since 1968 — but more consequential because more protesters have more skin in the game.
“Their protests weren't part of a countercultural pageant, as in '68, and rapidly morphed into full-fledged rebellions, bringing down regimes and immediately changing the course of history.”
Middle Americans (1969)
After a decade of progressive politics in which the young wielded more power than ever, many Americans had become tired with this new liberalism.
So a new band of activists came to the fore in the form of middle-class people.
They began demanding more law and order, increasing jail sentences and bringing back the death penalty.
And they got it. So Time dedicated 1969 to Middle Americans.
The Hungarian Freedom Fighter (1956)
The 1950s were the height of the Cold War and an era when McCarthyism – witch-hunting Communists – ran rampant.
So, in this environment, anyone who battled against, or sought to change, the Soviet Union was considered a hero.
Hence Time editors dedicated their Man of the Year title to the Hungarian Freedom Fighter, whose uprising against Soviet policies was brutally crushed by Russian troops.
American Women (1975)
The 1970s was the decade when feminism had become a force to be reckoned with.
In America, Britain and elsewhere, a raft a equality laws were enacted.
And more than that, women made huge strives in getting good jobs and taking on a very male-dominated world.
So, by 1975, Time hailed American Women as the most outstanding people of the year.
The magazine described their advances as like the arrival of a “new immigrant wave in male America”.
The dawn of the 1960s represented a revolutionary time in science.
People fully expected the world to be unrecognisable within a decade – with many imagining they would be travelling around in spacecraft rather than cars.
So Time’s Men of the Year in 1960 – American Scientists – was a fitting tribute to the new age of technological optimism.