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Saturn's spongy moon
Stunning images of Saturn's moon Hyperion taken by the Cassini spacecraft show a surface dotted with craters and modified by some process, not yet understood, to create a strange, "spongy" appearance, unlike the surface of any other moon around the ringed planet.

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Astronaut parade
The astronauts from space shuttle Discovery's return to flight mission recently paid a visit to Japan, the homeland of mission specialist Souichi Noguchi, and were treated to a grand parade.

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ISS command change
The International Space Station's outgoing Expedition 11 crew and the new Expedition 12 crew gather inside the Destiny laboratory module for a change of a command ceremony, complete with ringing of the outpost's bell, as the human presence in space continues.

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Expedition 11 in review
The Expedition 11 mission of commander Sergei Krikalev and flight engineer John Phillips aboard the International Space Station is winding down, and this narrated retrospective looks back at the key events of the half-year voyage in orbit.

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Pluto spacecraft
The Pluto New Horizons spacecraft, destined to become the first robotic probe to visit Pluto and its moon Charon, arrives at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in advance of its January blastoff.

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Life on the station
NASA astronauts Bill McArthur and John Phillips chat with Associated Press space reporter Marcia Dunn about life aboard the International Space Station in this live space-to-Earth interview from the Destiny laboratory module on October 5.

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West Coast Delta 4
In preparation for the West Coast launch of Boeing's next-generation Delta 4 rocket, the two-stage vehicle is rolled out of its horizontal hangar and driven to the Space Launch Complex-6 pad for erection. The nose cone for the NRO payload is then brought to the pad.

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West Coast shuttle
Boeing's Delta 4 rocket pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base was renovated in recent years, transforming Space Launch Complex-6 from the West Coast space shuttle launch site into a facility for the next-generation unmanned booster. This collection of footage shows the 1985 launch pad test using NASA's orbiter Enterprise.

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Vandenberg's 200th and final Titan set to launch

Posted: October 17, 2005

A program born 50 years ago this month to develop a two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile, later morphing into a launcher for astronauts and satellites, winds down this week when the final Titan rocket roars into space history.

More than 500 missiles and space rockets carrying the name Titan have been built in the past five decades. The last stands on its launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with a top-secret spy spacecraft tucked inside its nose cone. Blastoff comes Wednesday between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. PDT (12-4 p.m. EDT; 1600-2000 GMT).

"This will be a historic day for Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Central Coast of California," said Col. Jack Weinstein, the base commander. "The Titan program has been critically important for our nation and we are fortunate to be able to close out this chapter with a final launch of this important system. Even as we bid farewell to the Titan 4, we are very excited as we look forward to our first launches of the new Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles from Vandenberg."

The Pentagon is retiring the Titan 4, known for its expense and complexity, in favor of the new EELV Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets built to be cheaper and offer more modular designs to launch a wider range of satellite sizes.

This will be the 200th Titan to fly from the West Coast. The launch record to date includes:

  • 20 Titan 1 ICBM
  • 58 Titan 2 ICBM
  • 13 Titan 2 space rockets
  • 57 Titan 3B
  • 22 Titan 3D
  • 11 Titan 34B
  • 7 Titan 34D
  • 11 Titan 4
The Air Force and Lockheed Martin created an incentive program to keep a skilled workforce in place to conduct the final Titan launches, which have carried vital national security satellites into space.

"Our responsibility at this point is to remain focused on the job," said Walt Yager, Lockheed Martin's vice president of the Titan program. "The point I try to make is everybody wants to close this program down with a smile on their face. They want to be happy about their contributions."

About 120 Titan workers at Vandenberg will be let go January 6, assuming the launch goes this week. The Defense Department is retaining the workers for the extended period after the last liftoff to help ease the transition and give the employees time to find new jobs.

About 110 workers will begin the effort of closing out the program, including cleanup of the launch complex.

"That number will go down quite rapidly," Yager said. "Within four to six months we'll be down to about 50 people supporting it."

Work to decontaminate the Space Launch Complex-4, remove hazardous items and dispose of hardware is expected to last several months as the workforce gradually dwindles down.

The company expects to reduce its total Vandenberg workforce to 159 employees in support of the new Atlas 5 rocket.

Meanwhile, another 250 jobs at Lockheed Martin's Denver site will be phased out with Titan. But Yager said 60 percent have found new jobs inside the company. That percentage is similar to the rate experienced by Cape Canaveral workers following the final Titan 4 from the East Coast this spring.

"I'm confident we'll be able to do about the same thing here at Vandenberg," Yager said.

Lockheed Martin anticipates completing work to shut down the entire Titan program -- the launch sites and test facilities across the country -- by 2008.

"We have 50 years of paper that has to be disposed of," Yager said. "That's a process in and of itself."

The weather forecast for Wednesday's launch attempt predicts a 40 percent chance of unacceptable winds.

The launch time outlook calls for some high cirrus clouds at 27,000 feet, visibility of 7 miles, a temperature between 62 and 67 degrees, ground winds of 8-to-12 knots from the north between 340 and 020 degrees and maximum high-altitude winds of 50 knots at 45,000 feet from the west-northwest.

If liftoff is delayed for some reason, Thursday's winds are expected to be stronger. There is a 60 percent chance of violating the launch rules in the event of a 24-hour delay.