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Conor Friedersdorf

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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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As China's population and economy continue to grow, the country is scrambling to solve challenges in housing, elder care, cultural and political institutions, the environment, and other areas of everyday life. Today's collection, a recent gathering of images from across the nation, covers a range of subjects from wheelchair dancers to bear bile farms, a monkey-controlled robot arm to a Tibetan exile protester who set himself on fire earlier today, and much more. [41 photos]

A woman and her son sit inside the capsule of an electric tricycle as they drive along a main road in central Beijing, on March 15, 2012. (Reuters/David Gray)

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World Press Photo, a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands, recently announced the winners of its 2012 photojournalism contest. More than 5,000 photographers from 124 countries submitted over 100,000 pictures to the competition. Top honors this year went to Samuel Aranda for his image of a woman holding a wounded relative during protests in Yemen. The prize-winning photographs will be assembled into an exhibition that will travel to 45 countries over the next year. Below is just a sample of this year's group of winners -- please visit the World Press Photo website to see them all. (See also the winners from 2011.) [32 photos]

First prize winner in the Spot News Singles category of the 2012 World Press Photo Contest, this photo by by Yuri Kozyrev, Noor Images for Time, shows rebels in Ras Lanuf, Libya, on March 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Yuri Kozyrev, Noor Images for Time)

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Today is Valentine's Day, a day set aside for expressions of love and affection. The traditional western holiday has spread to many countries around the globe, despite some efforts by religious and cultural groups to fight its adoption. Valentine's Day spending in the U.S. this year is expected to reach nearly $15 billion -- $2 billion of it on flowers alone. Ninety percent of the flowers Americans will give to their sweethearts are imported, and nearly all of those imports originate in Colombia and Ecuador. Included in today's posting is an 18-photo series depicting the voyage of the roses from South American farm to florists worldwide. [37 photos]

A couple kisses during a flashmob organized by a local television station on the eve of Valentine's Day in the Russian city of Stavropol, on February 13, 2012. (Reuters/Eduard Korniyenko)

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Yesterday I decided to try an experiment: I solicited reader requests for news photos. I asked people on Twitter and Google+, "Would you like to see a good photo of a particular subject? A high-res version of a photo you've already seen somewhere else? A photo from a particular photographer or event? If I have access and can find it, I'll try to post it" (details). The response was great, the subject matter was varied, and the task of finding the images and composing this entry was great fun. Images ranged from massive solar flares to tiny insects, taken in places from Thailand to outer space. If you enjoy this experiment, let me know in the comments, and I may develop it into a more regular feature. To all those who made requests, thanks so much, I hope you like what I was able to find. [29 photos]

Beth Winter (@bwinter) and Spidler both asked for a higher resolution version of "Anonymous in Polish parliament". -- Lawmakers from the leftist Palikot's Movement cover their faces with masks as they protest against ACTA, or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, during a parliament session, in Warsaw, Poland, on January 26, 2012, after the Polish government signed the agreement. Poland's plans to sign ACTA sparked attacks on Polish government websites and street protests in several Polish cities this week. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

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diversity is everywhere in India, from its religions and languages to its economy, and climates. The second-most populous nation in the world, India is home to more than 1.2 billion people. Most are Hindu, but seven other religions -- including Islam, Christianity and Sikhism -- make up nearly 20 percent of the population. January 26 will be India's 62nd Republic Day, marking the date in 1950 when the country's constitution came into force. Collected here are recent photos from across the vast nation, offering only a small glimpse of the people and diversity of India. [41 photos]

Indian soldiers from the Border Security Forces atop camels stand at attention in front of the Presidential Palace during a ceremony in preparation for the annual Beating Retreat in New Delhi, India, on January 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

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It's time once more for a look into the animal kingdom and our interactions with the countless other species that share our planet. Today's photos include a fiery Spanish festival, a frightening encounter with a leopard in India, a flamingo undergoing laser treatment, a new species named in honor of entertainer Beyonce, and the plight of Ukraine's "vodka bears". These images and many others are part of this roundup of animals in the news from recent weeks, seen from the perspectives of their human observers, companions, captors, and caretakers. [42 photos]

A man rides a horse through a bonfire on January 16, 2012 in the small village of San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain. In honor of San Anton, the patron saint of animals, horses are ridden through the bonfires on the night before the official day of honoring animals in Spain. (Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

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More than 500 teams are currently speeding across the deserts of Argentina, Chile, and Peru, racing more than 8,300 km (5,150 mi) in the 33rd annual Dakar Rally. Competitors pit themselves against the elements, driving specialized off-road cars, trucks, motorcycles, and quadbikes through challenging terrain for two weeks. One rider, Argentine Jorge Martinez Boero, has already died this year in a crash. The 2012 Dakar Rally began in Mar del Plata, Argentina, on January 1, and racers reached the finish line in Lima, Peru, on Sunday, January 15. [41 photos]

Stefan Svitko rides his KTM during the 10th stage of the Dakar Rally 2012, from Iquique to Arica, Chile, on January 11, 2012. (Reuters/Jerome Prevot)

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According to the latest jobs numbers, issued by the Labor Department on January 6, the U.S. unemployment rate has dropped to 8.5 percent, down from 10 percent in 2009. The Great Recession has claimed more than 8.5 million jobs since 2007, and even though the current trajectory of the U.S. appears to be toward recovery, Americans are still struggling to find work. Nine of the photographs below appear in The Atlantic's January/February 2012 print issue, and I've added 25 more here to round out a collection of images from these years of uncertainty -- of men and women both at work and out of work in the United States. [34 photos]

A workman steams a U.S. flag in preparation for a planned visit by President Barack Obama, on April 6, 2011, at wind turbine manufacture Gamesa Technology Corporation in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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