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Starting next month, NASA will begin delivering its four Space Shuttle orbiters to their final destinations. After an extensive decommissioning process, the fleet -- which includes three former working spacecraft and one test orbiter -- is nearly ready for public display. On April 17, the shuttle Discovery will be attached to a modified 747 Jumbo Jet for transport to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. Endeavour will go to Los Angeles in mid-September, and in early 2013, Atlantis will take its place on permanent display at Florida's Kennedy Space Center. Test orbiter Enterprise will fly to New York City next month. Gathered here are images of NASA's final days spent processing the Space Shuttle fleet. [35 photos]

In Orbiter Processing Facility-2 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the flight deck of space shuttle Atlantis is illuminated one last time during preparations to power down Atlantis during Space Shuttle Program transition and retirement activities, on December 22, 2011. Atlantis is being prepared for public display in 2013 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. (NASA/Jim Grossmann)

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The second collection of images from 2011 once again brought us nature at its full force with floods, drought, wild fires, tornadoes and spectacular images of volcanic eruptions. The death of Osama bin Laden, the attack on an island in Norway by a lone gunman, continued fighting in Libya, and protests around the globe were a few of the news events dominating the headlines. -- Lloyd Young Please see part 1 from Monday and watch for part 3 Friday. (45 photos total)
A cloud of ash billowing from Puyehue volcano near Osorno in southern Chile, 870 km south of Santiago, on June 5. Puyehue volcano erupted for the first time in half a century on June 4, 2011, prompting evacuations for 3,500 people as it sent a cloud of ash that reached Argentina. The National Service of Geology and Mining said the explosion that sparked the eruption also produced a column of gas 10 kilometers (six miles) high, hours after warning of strong seismic activity in the area. (Claudio Santana/AFP/Getty Images) )

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The best photos of 2011 from around the globe. Warning: All images in this entry are shown in full, not screened out for graphic content. Some images contain dead bodies, graphic content and tragic events. We consider these images an important part of human history.

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A park ranger stands at the site of a new eruption in Virunga National Park near Goma, on November 24, 2011. Almost three weeks after a fissure opened amidst dense flat forest, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park has seen an increasing number of tourists seeking to be guided on treks to witness [...]

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A half-century ago, much of the world was in a broad state of change: We were moving out of the post-World War II era, and into both the Cold War and the Space Age, with broadening civil rights movements and anti-nuclear protests in the U.S. In 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to fly in space, Freedom Riders took buses into the South to bravely challenge segregation, and East Germany began construction of the Berlin Wall. That year, Kennedy gave the okay to the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion into Cuba and committed the U.S. to "landing a man on the Moon" with NASA's Apollo program. JFK also oversaw the early buildup of a U.S. military presence in Vietnam: by the end of 1961, some 2,000 troops were deployed there. Let me take you 50 years into the past now, for a look at the world as it was in 1961. [50 photos]

John F. Kennedy speaks for the first time as President of the United States in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 1961, during the inaugural ceremonies. (AP Photo)

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Now that the final space shuttle has landed, many thousands involved with it have lost their jobs, and budget cuts loom, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the other projects NASA has been working on recently, and what will be keeping the agency busy in the coming years. There has been a flurry of discoveries and firsts just this year alone, as scientists have discovered a fourth moon around Pluto, and a spacecraft has entered orbit around the asteroid Vesta for the first time. Earlier this month the spacecraft Juno launched toward Jupiter, while workers prepared the next Mars rover, Curiosity, for launch by the end of this year. All of this on top of supporting existing missions to the sun, Mercury, Earth, Mars, Saturn and more. Collected here is just a small recent sampling of NASA's far-reaching projects and missions. [33 photos]

Rising from fire and smoke, NASA's Juno planetary probe, enclosed in its payload fairing, launches atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Leaving from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on August 5, 2011, the spacecraft will embark on a five-year journey to Jupiter. The solar-powered spacecraft will orbit Jupiter's poles 33 times to find out more about the gas giant's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere and investigate the existence of a solid planetary core. (NASA/Scott Andrews)

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When Atlantis touched down yesterday at Cape Canaveral, Fla., the high-flying era of the space shuttles came down to earth as well. After 30 years, the shuttle program, which began on April 12, 1981 with Colombia, has ended with the 135th mission. Atlantis delivered the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module packed with supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station, and retrieved a failed pump unit and other items for the return trip. Atlantis went aloft 33 times, logging over 125 million miles. The last shuttle will become a museum exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center. -- Lane Turner (41 photos total)
The space shuttle Atlantis flies over the Bahamas prior to a perfect docking with the International Space Station on July 10, 2011. Part of a Russian Progress spacecraft docked to the station is in the foreground. (AP Photo/NASA)

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Bill Ingalls / NASA via EPA

Space shuttle Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, July 12, 2011. The Atlantis landing marked the end of the space shuttle era when its wheels touched down for the last time at the Kennedy Space Center. "After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history. It‘s come to a final stop," Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson said.

Pierre Ducharme / Reuters

Space shuttle Atlantis lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 21, 2011. The space shuttle Atlantis glided home through a moonlit sky for its final landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, completing a 30-year odyssey for NASA's shuttle fleet.

David J. Phillip / AP

Johnson Space Center employees Shelley Stortz. lelft, and Jeremy Rea, right, hold hands as they watch space shuttle Atlantis land Thursday, July 21, 2011, in Houston.

Phaedra Singelis writes

It's hard to photograph something far away in darkness, but photographers still managed to make some beautiful images of the last landing of the shuttle this morning.

More shuttle photos on PhotoBlog

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Today marks the end of an era. Three decades of missions came to a close this morning as the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida after a 13-day trip to the International Space Station. All told, the 135 space shuttle missions have racked up more than 542 million miles in low earth orbit. Commander Chris Ferguson piloted the Atlantis to a safe landing at 5:52 a.m., and the spacecraft will soon undergo processing and decommissioning. It has been an emotional experience for residents and workers along Florida's Space Coast -- some 9,000 shuttle engineers, technicians, and other staff are being laid off, and the main tourism draw for the area has come to an end. Shown here, for one last time, is a look at a full shuttle mission, STS-135, the final flight of Atlantis. Also, be sure to see The History of the Space Shuttle, an earlier entry on In Focus. [39 photos]

A view of the space shuttle Atlantis and its payload on July 10, 2011, seen from the International Space Station. At the rear of the cargo bay is the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module, packed with supplies and spare parts for the ISS. (NASA)

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