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Roger Lowenstein

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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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Tomorrow, March 22, is World Water Day, an event established by the United Nations in 1993 to highlight the challenges associated with this precious resource. Each year has a theme, and this year's is "Water and Food Security." The UN estimates that more than one in six people worldwide lack access to 20-50 liters (5-13 gallons) of safe freshwater a day to ensure their basic needs for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. And as the world's population grows beyond 7 billion, clean water is growing scarcer in densely populated areas as well as in remote villages. Collected here are recent images showing water in our lives -- how we use it, abuse it, and depend on it. [36 photos]

A journalist takes a sample of polluted red water from the Jianhe River in Luoyang, Henan province, China, on December 13, 2011. According to local media, the sources of the pollution were two illegal chemical plants discharging their production wastewater into the rain sewer pipes. (Reuters/China Daily)

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Today is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It also marks the end of "the winter that wasn't," as the past several months in North America have been dubbed. It was the fourth-warmest winter in the United States since record-keeping began 117 years ago. In accord with the unusual weather, this turn of the season brings us snow in Arizona and Saudi Arabia, while conditions remain sunny and warm in America's Northeast and Western Europe. Collected here are scenes from around the world as a strange winter gives way to spring. [40 photos]

The sun sets behind cherry blossoms which have come into full bloom due to the early warm weather in Washington, D.C., on March 19, 2012. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

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For a number of reasons, natural and human, people have recently evacuated or otherwise abandoned a number of places around the world -- large and small, old and new. Gathering images of deserted areas into a single photo essay, one can get a sense of what the world might look like if humans were to vanish from the planet altogether. Collected here are recent scenes from nuclear-exclusion zones, blighted urban neighborhoods, towns where residents left to escape violence, unsold developments built during the real estate boom, ghost towns, and more. [41 photos]

A tree grows from the top of a chimney in an abandoned factory yard in Luque, on the outskirts of Asuncion, Paraguay, on October 2 , 2011. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

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