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John-Manuel Andriote

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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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The Chinese Lantern Festival takes place on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. As they mark the end of the Spring Festival, celebrants create colorful lanterns, set off fireworks, and hold parades. In one village, residents hurl molten metal against a wall to create an impressive display of sparks in a 300-year-old tradition. Gathered below are some vibrant images from this year's Chinese Lantern Festival. [29 photos]

A blacksmith throws molten metal against a cold wall to create sparks, as he and others celebrate the Lantern Festival which traditionally marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations, in Nuanquan, Hebei province, China, on February 6, 2012. For over 300 years, the village, which is famous for its blacksmith skills, has maintained the tradition which they consider a cheaper alternative to buying fireworks during the Lantern Festival. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

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Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated that American forces in Afghanistan would be accelerating their withdrawal. "Hopefully by the mid-to-latter part of 2013," Panetta said, "we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advice, and assist role." This announcement came shortly after the Taliban declared its plans to open a political office in Qatar, allowing for direct peace negotiations. At the moment, the U.S. still has 90,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, with 22,000 scheduled to return home later this year. Gathered here are images of the people and places involved in this conflict over the past month, as part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. [42 photos]

Men of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, during an operation near the end of their third deployment in three years in Afghanistan. They were securing route 611, which runs Kajaki Sofla, an area that had long been a safe haven for insurgent sub-commanders and for arms and drug trafficking. (Cpl. James Clark/USMC)

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