The last members of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing departed JB Balad, Iraq, on Tuesday, as the United States relinquished control of its second largest base in Iraq, reports Reuters. The Iraqi government now controls the base, which once housed roughly 36,000 American troops and contractors, according to the news wire service. Known as al Bakr Air Base before the US invasion in March 2003, the installation grew into Balad Air Base, hosting a large Air Force presence, and Camp Anaconda, the Army’s major logistics hub in the country. The Air Force and Army combined the two into a joint base in June 2008 under the stewardship of USAF’s 332nd AEW. Aircraft such as F-16s, MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, and MC-12 Liberty surveillance aircraft operated from there. Boasting an 11,000 foot runway, Balad at one time during the US military’s presence was “second only” to London’s Heathrow airport in terms of activity, according to Reuters, citing a US military historian.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.