#2. Catching a Satellite by Hand
The ability to grasp tools is a definitive advantage, and we've taken it all the way from sticks to ... communications satellites? Catching a satellite with your hands is what happens when Superman plays spaceball; it's not meant to be something that happens in the real world. But no one told the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour that when they went for an orbital triple play to capture a rogue Intelsat VI satellite. The Endeavour wasn't actually designed to capture satellites, but when you're already taking human bodies into space, achieving things you weren't ever designed to do is an awesome given.
For example: Alexei Leonov, the first man to put on a nice suit and STEP INTO SPACE.
Pierre Thuot, Richard Hieb, and Thomas Akers of mission STS-49 outdid every space combat movie ever made. Even the swashbuckling Star Wars gang never said "Let's just get out there and GRAB stuff," and that was a movie with Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca.
Technically he's a heavenly bear.
The Johnson Space Center designed a mission-specific capture bar, which turned out to be the most expensive version of that annoying claw-grabbing game ever invented. Despite multiple spacewalks, the bar refused to grab hold, so the crew maneuvered to within about a meter of four tons of orbital velocity metal, got outside, and mastered an off-world communications hub with nothing but their opposable thumbs. Because even during the depressing years of working as the world's most glorified TV repair staff, astronauts still deserved every single bit of that glory.
The most badass game of "catch" ever.
So if V'Ger ever does come back, threatening to destroy the planet, we won't need the Starship Enterprise; we already have astronauts trained and ready to Greco-Roman wrestle it.
#1. Valeri Polyakov Is King of Space
Valeri Polyakov has spent longer being awesome in space than most people have spent being awesome on the ground. Polyakov was a doctor-cosmonaut, specializing in astronautic medicine, when he wanted to find out what happens to the human body in space. When you look up "humans staying in space long enough to reach Mars" in the dictionary, you won't find it, because that's not a single word, but when you look it up in scientific journals, it says "Valeri Polyakov." He's the one-man test case for shipping people to other planets.
"Aw, you guys and your gravity are so cute."
He spent 240 days on the Mir space station for the Soviet Union in 1988, then another 437 days for Russia in 1994, because his space adventures transcend petty things like "Earth politics" (which must have looked particularly petty from where he could see them). Sealing someone in a tin can for over a year sounds like a recipe for a psychological horror movie, and has been, several times, but Polyakov wanted to prove that the human mind could take it. Extended stays in space can also cause loss in muscle mass and bone density, but a specialized workout program meant that Polyakov Rocky-ed his way through it.
After a year in space, returning to full gravity must have felt like the Earth was on him, instead of the other way around, but Valeri insisted on walking from the capsule to the chair provided just to show how much the human body could take. His first actions on the ground were to tell people that, when humanity really wants to, it can be the most awesome thing in existence.
Reuters via Washington Post
NASA astronaut Norman Thagard reported that Polyakov looked "like he could wrestle a bear," which is both a compliment and a kickass truth about Russian space training. Wrestling grizzlies in space? If the next Die Hard has to be Russian, that should be the plot.
Polyakov is likely to hold the record for longest stay in space until someone actually takes him up on his dare to fly to the red planet. The astronomical unit is the distance from the Earth to the sun, and he flew two of them just to prove a point. He traveled 300 million kilometers in a tin can to challenge the entire human race to get moving again.
Luke looks at more badass achievements with The Craziest Consensual Sex Criminals, and goes where no internet has gone before by actually reading before clicking "I agree" in the Terms of Service experiment. Check him out at his website and Tumblr, or on Twitter, where he responds to every single tweet.
For more spectacular space ass-kicking, check out 12 Pictures of Space You Won't Believe Aren't Photoshopped and 6 Badass Spacecraft Landings Humanity Totally Nailed.