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Philip Toczylowski, of Philadelphia, sits by his son’s grave with a trumpet at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Friday, Dec. 16, 2011, a day after the Pentagon declared an end to the war in Iraq. Toczylowski says that he plays taps every time he visits the grave of his son, Army Major Jeffrey Philip [...]

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From its first launch 30 years ago to its final launch scheduled for next Friday, NASA's Space Shuttle program has seen moments of dizzying inspiration and of crushing disappointment. When next week's launch is complete, the program will have sent up 135 missions, ferrying more than 350 humans and thousands of tons of material and equipment into low Earth orbit. Fourteen astronauts have lost their lives along the way -- the missions have always been risky, the engineering complex, the hazards extreme. As we near the end of the program, I'd like to look back at the past few decades of shuttle development and missions as we await the next steps toward human space flight. [61 photos]

Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off from Kennedy Space Center, on April 12, 1981. Commander John Young and pilot Robert Crippen were onboard STS-1, the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle program. (Reuters/NASA/KSC)

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ONE, TWO, THREE, POUR: Women poured hot water into cups for tea before the closing session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Monday. (David Gray/Reuters)

WASHING UP: A Somali refugee, fleeing the fighting in Libya, washed clothes at the Choucha transit camp, near the Tunisian border town of Ras Jedir Monday. (AFP/Getty Images)

SHATTERED: An Iraqi soldier sat in the rubble of a suicide bomb attack in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday. The early morning attack on an Iraqi army intelligence battalion headquarters killed 10 Iraqi soldiers and wounded 30 people. (Ali Mohammed/European Pressphoto Agency)

‘HERE’S WHAT I THINK’: ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet, left, talked with Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker at the start of an intergovernmental ministerial meeting on the European Stability Mechanism at the European Union council headquarters in Brussels Monday. (Thierry Roge/Reuters)

WARY: A sign reading ‘No evacuation possible’ on a building in Newbury, Mass., refers to the nuclear power plant in nearby Seabrook, N.H. Anxiety over Japan’s quake-crippled nuclear reactors has triggered calls from U.S. lawmakers and activists for review of U.S. nuclear energy policy. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

REFUGE IN A STORM: North African migrants arrived with an Italian export at the southern Italian island of Lampedusa Monday. Thousands of Tunisians have fled their country this year in the wake of the uprising that toppled longtime ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. (Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

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